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University of California • Berkeley 

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal 
agreement between the Regents of the University of 
California and Yuen Ren Chao dated 8 August 1974. The 
manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes. 
All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right 
to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library of the 
University of California Berkeley. No part of the 
manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written 
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the 
University of California at Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication 
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 
486 Library, and should include identification of the 
specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the 
passages, and identification of the user. The legal 
agreement with Yuen Ren Chao requires that he be notified of 
the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond. 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library " Berkeley, California 

China Scholars Series 

Yuen Ren Chao 

With an Introduction by 
Mary Haas 

An Interview Conducted by 
Rosemary Levenson 

Copy No. 

(c) 1977 by The Regents of the University of California 

Yuen Ren Chao 



Family Background 1 
Early Education 3 
Ghosts and Spirits 8 
Eclipses, Rites, and Religion 9 
Traveling with the Family 11 
Fashions 13 
Life in Changchow and Soochow 15 
"Foreign" School 18 
"Youth's Improvement Society" 22 
Sixty Years of Diaries 24 
The Boxer Indemnity Fund Scholarship 25 

Cornell, 1910-1915, B.A. in Mathematics 31 
The Student Science Journal, K'o Hsueh 35 
Musical Studies, Finances, and Outings 37 
World Events 39 
Harvard Years; 1915-1918, a Ph.D. in Philosophy 40 
Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley, 1918-1919 45 

Students and Universities in the '20s 47 
With Bertrand Russell and Dora Black; 1920-1921 57 
Academia Sinica and Harvard Yenching 66 
Tsing Hua 69 
March 18 Incident, Peking, 1926 74 

Unification of the National Language 76 
Romanization and Gwoyeu Romatzyh 86 
Language Reform and Literature 92 
Publishing with the Commercial Press, Shanghai 94 
Theater 96 
Folklore and Language Reform 99 
New Styles in Intellectual Enterprise 102 
Y.R. Chao as Composer and Singer 105 

Purposes of the Surveys 111 
Early Recording Instruments: the Kymograph and the 

Spectrograph 113 

Equipment 116 

Methods 119 

Teaching and Studying at Harvard, 1921-1924 126 
Meetings with European Scholars, 1924-1925; Karlgren, 

Pelliot, Giles, and Others 135 

"Funeral Director" of the Tsing Hua Scholarship Students 

in America 143 

Linguistic Studies in America 147 

The Shadows of War 152 

VII CAREERS IN AMERICA, 1938-1947 154 
A Year at the University of Hawaii, 1938-1939 154 
Teaching Chinese Music: More Thoughts on Composition 160 
Yale and the Yale Linguistic Club 163 
Harvard and the Dictionary Project 164 
U.S. Army Chinese Language School at Harvard 168 
Consultant to Bell and General Electric Laboratories: 

Breaking a Japanese Code 173 

UNESCO Work 175 

Co-author with Buwei Yang Chao 176 


A Quick Appointment 178 
Berkeley Colleagues: Peter Boodberg, Ferdinand Lessing, 

Chen Shih-hsiang 179 

Growth and Development of the Oriental Languages Department 184 

The East Asiatic Library 190 

The Loyalty Oath and the Free Speech Movement 190 

Further Dialect Studies: Toi Shan in Chinatown 192 

Grammar of Spoken Chinese 194 

Comments on Modern Linguistics 195 

Professional Associations 197 

The Faculty Research Lecture 197 

"Language at Play and Play at Language" 198 

Children and Language Study 201 

General Chinese: A New Language Reform 203 

Meeting with Chou En-lai, 1973 204 

P'u-t'ung hua and Pinyin 205 

Family in China 210 

Comments on the Chaos' Trip to China 211 

Summings Up 214 

7 1 R 
APPENDIX A: First "Green Letter", Peking, 1921 

APPENDIX B: "Language at Play, Why. Are. See." January, 1971 

APPENDIX C: Bibliography 




It was a happy circumstance for linguists and other scholars at the 
University of California, Berkeley, when the situation in China in 1947 
made it impossible for Buwei and Y.R. Chao to return to their native land 
as they had planned. They had pulled up stakes from Harvard and had 
traveled across the continent with the aim of proceeding to China to stay. 
But it was not to be. And so it came about that they settled in Berkeley 
where they remain to this day, thirty years later. 

From his very earliest years Y.R. Chao had always been keenly aware 
of and alive to everything in the world about him. His physical surroundings, 
and his linguistic surroundings all enveloped his consciousness with the 
thoroughness that became manifest in the future physicist, mathematician, 
linguist, composer, translator, and world citizen. 

He was born at a critical time in China's history. It was a time when 
some of the people of this ancient nation were beginning to show a willingness 
to look toward the West in a way that had been completely impossible only a 
short time before. Though his early education was in the traditional mold, 
he was among the very first Chinese to receive his advanced education in 
America. And so he benefited in a way that few others had done before him 
from the best of the traditional philosophical Chinese training followed by 
the best of the modern Western scientific training. The difference between 
the secure world of family and friends in his early years and the highly 
individualistic world of his American college years was profound. Though he 
had intended to stay only four years on that first visit, he actually stayed 
for ten years. He seemed to be made for this new world. He was stimulated by 
it in a way he had not been stimulated in China. He wanted to learn everything 
about it, not only American science and philosophy but American customs as well. 

The career of Y.R. Chao is a remarkable one. The breadth of his interests 
is almost overwhelming. To label him as "mathematician" or "linguist" or 
"musician" is quite misleading; only "scholar" will do. I know of no other 
person who participates so readily in both of the two cultures — science and 
humanism — , each of which had become by the middle of the twentieth century 
a way of life and thought considered completely foreign to the other. But 
Chao moves easily and articulately in both. In the course of his long career 
as a teacher, he has taught physics, mathematics, philosophy, the Chinese 
language, the history of Chinese music, Chinese grammar, Chinese logic, and 
theoretical linguistics. He laid the foundations of modern linguistics in 
China in the 1920 's and has been an active participant in a number of major 
projects, both in China and in America, through the years. 


In China he and a circle of close associates 

developed the National Romanization (also known as "Chao Yuen Ren's 
Romanization") , a phonetic alphabet especially designed for the Chinese 
language; it was officially adopted by the Chinese government in 1928. 
Academia Sinica, Peking, was also established in 1928 and within it the 
Institute of History and Philology. The linguistic activities of the 
Institute were placed under his direction in 1929. In this capacity he 
trained students in the techniques of linguistic field work and conducted 
and directed surveys of Chinese dialects in several provinces. 

Later, in America, he joined the Chinese dictionary project of the 
Harvard-Yenching Institute at Harvard. With the help of Yang Lien-sheng 
he produced what is still the best dictionary of colloquial Chinese, Concise 
Dictionary of Spoken Chinese (1946). Traditionally, only the literary language 
was worthy of study and documentation; hence a colloquial dictionary was a 
highly innovative undertaking. 

His Berkeley years have been productive ones and he has been the recipient 
of many honors during those and the immediately preceding years. He was a 
Guggenheim Fellow in 1954-55 and a Fulbright Research Scholar at Kyoto 
University in 1959. He served as the president of the Linguistic Society of 
America in 1945 and of the American Oriental Society in 1960. In 1967, the 
University of California, Berkeley, granted him its highest honor when he was 
named Faculty Research Lecturer for that year. Two honorary doctoral degrees 
have also been conferred upon him, Litt. D. , Princeton, 1946, and LL.D., 
University of California, Berkeley, 1963. 

It would be quite negligent to close these remarks without some reference 
to his genius for whimsicality. One of his proudest accomplishments as a 
translator has been his translation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland 
into Chinese! And one of his most delightful feats on the lecture circuit is 
to record on tape a poem or passage uttered backwards (complete with reverse 
intonation) in English. The tape is then reversed and played to his astounded 
audience to reveal a perfectly natural English pronunciation. 

The life of such a man is like a work of art. No matter from what angle 
it is viewed there is always something new to be discerned to serve as a 
source of wonder, of contemplation, and of inspiration. 

Mary R. Haas 

Emeritus Professor of Linguistics 

June 28, 1977 
Department of Linguistics 
University of California 
Berkeley, California 



Professor Yuen Ren Chao was born in 1892; his multifaceted life as an 
outstanding linguist, phonologist, theorist, and teacher spans the China 
of the Ch'ing dynasty and the Boxer Rebellion to Mao Tse-tung and ping pong 
diplomacy. His academic career in America began as an undergraduate at 
Cornell in 1910 when Taft was president and continues actively in 1977 with 
a busy regime of writing and publishing which he shares with his wife, 
Doctor Buwei Yang Chao. 

The grandson of a magistrate, Mr. Chao's education began in the 
traditional classical mold at home where he was taught by his grandfather, 
parents, and tutors. He completed his secondary schooling at Kiangnan High 
School in Nanking. His decision to take the examinations to study in America 
under the auspices of the Boxer Indemnity Fund was one of many manifestations 
of an attitude he describes as being "revolutionary-minded." He came in 
second out of seventy-two and set sail for America with the idea of becoming, 
an electrical engineer. However, learning the difference between pure and 
applied science from Hu Tun-fu, he decided that pure science was what he 
wanted. The sciences got purer and purer as he majored in mathematics 
(B.A. , Cornell, 1914) and philosophy (Ph.D. Harvard, 1918). His first 
teaching positions were in physics at Cornell, Tsing Hua college and Harvard, 
and his first publications included piano compositions and "The Fallacy of 
Learning the High Jump by Using a Paper-filled Pit." in K'o-hsueh . (Science) . 
a journal of which he was a founding member while an undergraduate at Cornell. 
His first book, the Chinese translation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. 
(Shanghai, 1922) has gone into several editions, and is a landmark in 
Chinese literary history; as one of the first books written in pai-hua. it 
played a part in the literary revolution of the '20s and resulted in a 
number of little girls called Alissu. He may be known to more people as the 
composer and singer of popular songs such as "How Can I Help Thinking of You?" 
than as the world famous scholar that he is. 

Informal dialect studies started very early. By the age of five, Mr. 
Chao spoke Changshu dialect, imperfect northern Mandarin, and read in 
imperfect Changchow. During school and university days, he exchanged dialects 
with fellow students, Changchow for Fukienese at school, and Wusih (midway 
between Changchow and Soochow) at college with M.T. (Minfu Ta) Hu. He 
learned German and French at Cornell, and Sanskrit and introductory linguistics 
at Harvard, while working for degrees in mathematics and philosophy. 


When Mr. Chao returned to China in 1920 to teach at Tsing Hua, after 
ten years in the United States, his first major commitment was to serve as 
interpreter for Bertrand Russell, Dora Black, and occasionally John Dewey. 
He married another "new-style" Chinese, Dr. Buwei Yang, Japanese-trained 
surgeon and gynecologist, who is famous for her work as a pioneer in birth 
control in China and for the introduction of Chinese cuisine to the western 
world through her books How to Cook and Eat in Chinese (1945) and How to 
Order and Eat in Chinese (1974). 

By 1921, Mr. Chao had decided to devote himself to linguistic studies. 
The next seventeen years were spent in America, Europe, and China. After 
three years teaching physics, and introducing Chinese language courses at 
Harvard while studying linguistics, the Chaos, now with two of their four 
daughters, traveled through Europe where Mr. Chao studied phonology and 
experimental phonetics. When Tsing Hua became a university in 1925, Mr. 
Chao returned to teach phonology at the newly established graduate Institute 
of Sinology as well as to give an undergradate course in music. Amongst 
his distinguished colleagues were Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, Wang Kuo-wei. and 
Yinko Tschen. 

He was an active member of the Minister of Education's Committee on 
Unification of the National Language, and of its activist group, the 
so-called "Society of a Few Men." A pioneer in audiolingual methods of 
teaching, Mr. Chao's Mandarin records and texts published in '20s and '30s 
set the model for spoken Mandarin, or p'u t'ung hua, which is followed in 
China to the present. His system of national romanization, Gwoyeu Romatzyh 
(G.R.) was officially adopted in 1928 as the second form of the National 
Phonetic Alphabet. 

Academia Sinica was established in 1929 and Mr. Chao became chief of 
the linguistic section and director of the linguistic surveys. He conducted 
pioneering dialect surveys, always learning enough of each dialect to put his 
informants at their ease. A major work completed at this time was his 
translation, in collaboration with two colleagues, of Bernhard Karlgren's 
Etudes sur la phonologie chinoise. 

The Marco Polo Incident in 1937 and the Japanese invasion of China 
forced the Chaos to move west as refugees. From Kunming, they went to the 
University of Hawaii for a year, then for two years to Yale. Mr. Chao was 
then invited to come to Harvard to work on the Chinese Dictionary project. 
After Pearl Harbor, he was asked to direct the U.S. Chinese Army language 
program at Harvard, leading to an outstanding career as a teacher of the 
Chinese language. His Cantonese Primer (1947), Mandarin Primer (1956), 
Readings in Sayable Chinese (1968), and A Grammar of Spoken Chinese (1968), 
were pioneer achievements and are still widely used. 

In 1946, he was asked to organize a series of UNESCO conferences. He 
was one of the lecturers at the opening session of UNESCO and shared the 
platform with, among others, Jean-Paul Sartre, Andre Malraux and Julian 

On his way back to China in 1947, he agreed to stop off at Berkeley, 
and has remained at the University of California ever since. He was made 
Agassiz professor in 1952, formally retired from teaching in 1960, and has 
been active here and around the world ever since. 

The Chaos' arrivals in Taiwan are front page news. They are equally 
welcome in China, where they toured extensively in 1973. Premier Chou En-lai, 
who had registered to study with Mr. Chao in 1920, though Chao's commitments to 
Bertrand Russell made this impossible, spoke privately with them for three 
hours, and asked Mrs. Chao's advice on China's birth control program. Mr. 
Chao had generous opportunities to meet professional colleagues, many of 
whom are old students of his. Their two grandsons, Nova's children, spent 
a month in Peking with them. 

Their four daughters have had outstanding careers. Iris Plan is a full 
professor at Harvard, with joint appointments in the departments of East 
Asian Civilizations and Music. Her daughter, Canta, who lived with her 
grandparents and was educated in Berkeley, has her M.A. and is now working 
for the department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington. Nova 
Xinna Chao has a very responsible job as professor of chemistry in Changsha, 
China. Lensey taught mathematics and is now president of a writers' club 
in Seattle, Bella is a researcher in physics at the Massachusetts Institute 
of Technology. 

Mr. Chao is now working on a system of General Chinese, using two 
thousand characters chosen from the ten thousand most commonly used characters 
which can serve as a unifying base for all the varieties of the language. 
A chapter on it appears in Aspects of Chinese Sociolinguistics ; Essays by 
Yuen Ren Chao* from which the bibliography appearing as an appendix to this 
book is drawn. He also continues his work on the dialects of Chinatown. 

Mr. Chao has made significant contributions to child language studies, 
sociolinguistics, and posed critical questions in the field of linguistic 
theory. Perhaps his most famous article in this area is "The non-uniqueness 
of phonemic solutions of phonetic systems," published in 1934. 

Mr. and Mrs. Chao write and study at the big dining room table in their 

house in the Berkeley hills. He goes at least twice a week to campus to 
work with his secretary and also serves on committees. They travel regularly; 

to China in 1973, to Cornell in 1974 for his 60th class reunion, and they are 

currently planning a trip to the east coast in the fall. They also entertain 

and are entertained by their innumerable friends. As Mrs. Chao says, "We're 
busier than ever." 

^Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1976 


For a number of years, Professor Yuen Ren Chao's name has been 
prominent on the ROHO's list of prospective memoirists in the China Scholars 
Series. Grants from the Center for Chinese Studies and the Joint Stanford- 
Berkeley East Asia Language and Area Center enabled this office to undertake 
the project. 


Research and Planning 

Professor Chao, with his customary modesty, demurred somewhat at the 
prospect of talking about himself; he prefers to listen to the speech of 
others. His customary good humor prevailed, however, and he agreed to 
participate in the project. 

The interviewer and her late husband, Joseph R. Levenson, professor of 
Chinese history at the University of California, Berkeley, had known Mr. Chao 
for many years at Harvard and Berkeley, and had enjoyed the delights of Mrs. 
Chao's cuisine and Mr. Chao's erudition and wit. A preliminary meeting in 
Mr. Chao's university office was held and the main outlines of the memoir 
agreed upon. Advice and help on topics to be covered and research was 
was received from members of the faculty at Harvard and Berkeley. At Harvard, 
Professors John K. Fairbank, Yang Lien-sheng, and Rulan (Iris) Chao Pian, 
Mr. Chao's eldest daughter, were particularly helpful. At Berkeley, ex- 
students and colleagues who gave discriminating advice include Professors 
Edward H. Schafer, David Keightley, and John C. Jamieson. Special thanks 
go to Professor Laurence A. Schneider, who took his degree in Chinese history 
at Berkeley, and was visiting for the year from the State University of New 
York at Buffalo and not only gave excellent bibliographical guidance but 
also served as joint interviewer for three of the sessions. Detailed agendas 
were prepared before each interviewing session. 

Nine taping sessions of varying length were held from February, 1974 
to May, 1974. At one point, a smoking tape recorder abruptly aborted one 
session to the interviewer's acute distress. Mr. Chao maintained his 
customary imperturbability. 

Editing and Completion 

The transcripts of the interviews were edited by the interviewer and a 
few minor changes made for the purposes of continuity before turning the 
manuscript over to Mr. Chao. The edited transcript was returned very promptly 
by Mr. Chao with few emendations with all questions answered. Delays in the 
production process were caused almost exclusively by the interviewer's health 
problems. Final typing, proofing and editing were completed by May 1977. 
Calligraphic additions were kindly made by Mrs. Yoshimi K. Nakamura of the 
East Asiatic Library. A delightful morning was spent searching for illustra 
tions in the Chaos 1 vast collection of memorabilia partially contained in three 


trunks in their house in the Berkeley hills. After our labors, the Chaos 
refreshed us all with a delightful Chinese lunch. 

A half -hour edited videotape was made at the Chaos" home and Mr. Chao's 
university office in the fall of 1976, and is available for viewing through 
The Bancroft Library. It includes Mr. Chao's own rendition of "How Can I 
Help Thinking of You?" recorded by Pathe in the '30s, Mrs. Chao's accounts 
of her experiences as a medical student in Japan from 1912-1919, and with 
an illegal birth control clinic in Peking in 1926, both Chaos' renditions 
of a T'ang poem chanted in the classical style, and Mrs. Chao's comments on 
current Chinese politics, particularly her views on the appropriate disposition 
of Chiang Ch'ing. 

An audiocassette of interest also available in The Bancroft Library is 
a recording of one of Mr. Chao's famous lectures, "Language at Play, and 
Play at Language", delivered to the Cornell Linguistic Circle on April 2, 
1969. It includes reversed English, limericks and puns. A transcript of a 
similar lecture is included as an appendix to this volume. 

Rosemary Levenson 

9 May 1977 

Regional Oral History Office 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California at Berkeley 


Family Background 

RL : I am very pleased to be here, and thank you for giving me the 
typescript of your autobiography.* Perhaps we could start by 
your telling me about your family background? 

Chao: Well, I call myself a native of Changchow. 

By the way, I should like to know how I should pronounce 
Chinese place names and names of persons? Those which are well 
known in the West? Should I pronounce everything as it is in 
Chinese or as transcribed, whether Communist or not? 

RL: That's an important question. Although this is a tape recording, 
the way in which it will be available to researchers will be as 
a bound, typed manuscript. As you speak, I will be taking notes 
of all Chinese and proper names when I'm not sure of the spelling, 
and after the interviews are over, I will ask you to check for 
errors so that the transcription can be done in the way you like. 

Chao: Good. My family came from Changchow. 

I think most places in China, at least in one atlas, every 
place name is given with only one spelling, but in this case, the 
city opposite Taiwan, Changchow with unaspirated "ch," and my 
home town Ch'angchow with aspirated "ch"' are both spelled 
"Changchow." For simplicity, I usually omit the aspiration sign 
in my home town- -Changchow. 

*Yuen Ren Chao, Life with Chaos, Volume II, Spoken Language Services 
Inc., Ithaca, New York, 1975. 

Chao: I call it my home town—actually, I was born in Tientsin 
on the coast east of Peking, one of the northern cities, but 
all I did in Tientsin was to have been born there. I don't 
remember it of course. And then our family went to Peking, and 
I don't remember any of that either. But during my first ten 
years I lived mostly in the province of what, at that time, was 
called Pechili in English to distinguish it from Chile in South 
America. Actually, in Chinese it is Chihli. 

Nowadays, it's called Hopei; sometimes it's spelled Hopeh, 
but recently it's more commonly spelled Hopei. 

But during my early years my family moved around a good deal 
from grandfather down. He held various posts in various cities 
and when he was waiting between assignments usually he lived in 
Paoting, which at that time was the capital of the province. 

RL: Was it usual to move as often as he did? He was a magistrate, 
wasn't he, and it seemed that you moved every year. 

Chao: Well, every two or three years at least, because we were in three 
or four different places during my first nine years. 

I should tell you who there were in my family from my grand 
father down, I had an uncle, who was an elder brother of my 
father's, and he was usually away. He had one son and two daughters. 
And one daughter was ten years older than myself, whom I called 
"Big Sister," and another two years older than myself, whom I 
called "Second Sister," and then the son was six years older than 
I was, and I called him "Big Brother." But since we were all so 
close together, we were practically brothers and sisters. So 
there were four children in the third generation. My uncle died 
very early. 

Then I had one aunt. I think her age was between my uncle 
and my father. She was married to a family who lived in Changshu, 
thirty miles north of Soochow in Kiangsu province. And one time, 
I think it was- -I don't know exactly when, but I was about five 
years old — she and her children came north to visit with us for 
quite a while. That was the time when I had the opportunity to 
hear and learn one of the so-called southern dialects. Because 
with her servants and my cousins in her family, I had to learn to 
speak their dialect in order to play with them. 

So it turned out that I could speak the Changshu dialect, 
which was similar to but rather different from my home dialect of 

Chao: Changchow— I learned that dialect before I learned my own dialect. 
Thus, at one time, I was able to talk in imperfect northern 
Mandarin, read in imperfect Changchow pronunciation, and talk in 
Changshu dialect. It seemed very natural to me, but it's a 
rather peculiar combination. 

RL: Your grandfather was a high government official, wasn't he? 

Chao: Well, he was a magistrate of--I think the most regular work he had 
was in Ch ' ichow in the eastern part of Hopei province, near 
Shantung, where the dialect is rather close to the Shantung 
dialect. He had quite an interesting time there. I think he was 
there twice as magistrate. That was his highest post, higher than 
some of the other temporary posts in Ch 1 ichow and Tz'uchow. 
Tz'uchow means literally "the prefecture of porcelain ware." I still 
have a memory of displayed porcelain ware on the streets everywhere. 

RL: I was interested that he found time to teach you and your cousins. 

Chao: Yes, he did. In fact, my father was too busy preparing for his 
civil service examination. He got the degree of Chii-jen, which 
corresponds to something like the M.A. So he was rather busier 
than my grandfather, although his pronunciation sometimes had to 
be corrected by my mother, who spoke better Mandarin. 

At home we spoke the northern dialect, an imperfect kind of 
Peking dialect. But we always kept our four tones in Mandarin 
straight. Anybody who spoke with some other accent with other 
tones would sound out of tune to us. I was rather language 
conscious just because of the complexity of the dialects around me. 
My family could speak some of the northern dialect, but the grownups 
still spoke the Changchow dialect among themselves. However, they 
spoke Mandarin to us children, the third generation. And we children 
also spoke the same sort of imperfect Mandarin among ourselves. 

Early Education 

Chao: When we started to go to school--! think I started to learn 

characters as early as four years old — then we were taught only 
the Changchow pronunciation. We even engaged teachers from the 
South—well, when we speak of the South, we mean the southeastern 
part of China, the lower Yangtze Valley, where the British journal, 
the North China Daily News was published. [Laughter] But we called 
that South. My family engaged teachers from the South to teach us. 

Chao: So, I was able to talk in the northern dialect and read in 
the southern, that is the Changchow speech. 

We used cards for studying the characters. Some of them 
were printed, so they were available — and we did make some of 
them ourselves. I think it was my father who made the character 
cards. About an inch and a half or two inches square, with 
characters on one side and the meaning on the other side pictured-- 
tree or dog, and so forth. But it was hard to learn the abstract 
words, which you couldn't picture. 

We didn't really spend very much time on the characters. 
We started learning to read pretty young. The usual order of the 
Four Books was Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, Confucian 
Analects, and Mencius , but we didn't try to follow the order. In 
fact, my grandfather, who started teaching us children fairly 
early, started with Great Learning and went on to the Confucian 
Analects ; we avoided the Doctrine of the Mean because we thought 
that was really mean. [Laughter] It's one of the hardest books — 
we left it till pretty late. 

RL: I would like to mention right now that you're famous, among other 
things, for puns. Did you start with punning and the Doctrine of 
the Mean as mean? [Laughs] 

Chao: I think it's so easy to make puns in Chinese that people often 
just go along and insert them without smiling or anything — this 
is taken for granted, it's so easy. 

And another thing was that in the old practice, different 
pupils at different ages would read different thing simultaneously 
aloud. So a half a dozen children or so in school would make this 
quite complicated noise. And during moments when I wasn't reading 
aloud myself, I would overhear other people read. So sometimes I 
would learn by heart some of the passages or even whole pieces of 
other books before I had actually reached that stage. And that 
happened both during the day, studying the prose texts, and at 
night, studying the poems. 

In the evening, my mother would teach us the T'ang poems. 
It's supposed to be much lighter work—well, it was more fun to 
read the T'ang poems. 

My mother was quite musical. She sang the K ' un ch ' u , the 
classical kind of song. And my father taught me to play the 

Chao: Chinese flute--[ telephone interruption], the reeded flute. I 

think it was probably mostly from my mother that I inherited my 
propensity toward music. 

RL: How did he teach you? Was it by ear and watching him or did you 
have a system of notation? 

Chao: In the case of the Chinese flute he just taught me how to use 

the fingers and how to blow. In those days the Chinese notation 
used was rather sketchy. You were supposed to put in the grace 
notes yourself. 

RL: In your autobiography, you mention hearing workmen's songs-- 

chanties--on your riverboat trips. Did you consciously memorize 
them and note them down? 

Chao: Well, I heard so much of that type of song, and we learned them 

and sang them at home for fun. Of course in those years I didn't 
know how to write down the various songs. 

RL: I imagine there were many street cries, as there used to be in 

Chao: Yes. Well, the street cries probably were somewhat stereotyped. 
Each kind of thing that was sold had a special tune repeated over 
and over again. 

RL: This is taking us out of chronology, but did you subsequently 
collect these at all when you were doing your dialect studies? 

Chao: I did occasionally, but not in any systematic way. 
RL: And did you sing at all together in the home? 

Chao: We sometimes would chant poetry- -of course, we also chanted prose 
at home. Sometimes we did it together, but on the whole we did 
it separately and there was quite a cacophony. [Laughter] 

RL: Looking back on it now with what you know about education, what 
do you think of that method of learning? It was obviously very 
successful in some cases. 

Chao: Yes. I believe very much in--at least in reading aloud what you've 
learned. The first time we got a teacher from the South to teach 
us, he explained character by character, and we were surprised that 

Chao: he should explain things, because in the old way we just learned 

the pronunciation of the characters, and we read aloud and recited 
aloud without understanding much. And then subsequently gradually 
as we grew older, things suddenly began to have meaning. And 
this agrees so much with the later methods, the so-called audio- 
lingual method, which started to be popular after the war in foreign 
language teaching in this country. So we had that audiolingual 
approach to start with. 

And also I carried over that old habit learned in China when 
I was in my sophomore year, I think it was, and I learned German, 
and my teacher in German at Cornell was himself a German. But 
following the then prevailing method of foreign language teaching 
in America, he just made us translate the texts into English, and 
during the whole semester we "d hardly hear a half a dozen sentences 
in German. At first I found it rather difficult, because I had 
to translate one foreign language into another. But while doing 
my homework I kept following my old Chinese habit of reading aloud 
from the text, and by the end of the semester I actually got an A 
translating German into English. 

RL: That's remarkable. 

Chao: Even though I spent most of my time reading aloud the texts, which 
were Kleidermachen Leuter and Minna von Barnhelm. 

RL: It seemed as though you had a fairly self-contained large family. 
Did you meet other children and play with them outside the family? 

Chao: We didn't play very much with children our age. You see, in 

those days there were no schools where children of different 

families would go to the same school. But, in the school we had, 

the family school, there was a visitor from a friend's family 
whom we were looking after. 

There were rarely as many as ten in a class. And by class I 
mean those who attended, because we were different grades and were 
studying different things. 

RL: In your autobiography, when you were discussing your grandfather's 
position, you mentioned beatings for criminals which were a 
standard punishment, and I was interested in how you worked out 
the counting system for the strokes. Would you describe those 

Chao: Well, my grandfather was rather lenient, but sometimes in cases 
where there were severe crimes he had to use punishment and he 
was not very severely inclined. It was called a beating on the 
buttocks, but actually it was on the back of the thighs with 
bamboo canes, a flat bamboo piece. And when—not the executioner-- 
the man who was carrying out the punishment would count, "One, two, 
three, four." From one to ten in Chinese is all monosyllabic. 
And then from eleven to twenty, he called, "Ten-one, ten-two, ten- 
three, etc. "--two syllables. But if you counted like that continuously 
there "d be no time for taking breath. So, he would say, "Ten-one, 
two, three-one, four, five-one, six;" that way there is one beat. 
After twenty, "One - twenty-two , three-twenty-four , " he'd just say 
"twenty" twice as fast. So he'd still have time to take a breath. 
And others who couldn't understand the system thought that he was 
bribed by the person he was punishing so as to confuse those who 
heard it. But I counted many times and still I couldn't find any 
case where they counted wrong.' That was an interesting system of 

RL: I was interested that you worked out that number system when you 
must have been quite young. Did you work out any other number 
games and what was the attitude of the adults --were they proud o-f 
you as one might be in the West, or was this just regarded as 
something trivial and not important? 

Chao: I think it was considered something trivial. 

RL: Then you also wrote about your games with the magnifying glass. 

Chao: Oh yes. I enjoyed very much using a magnifying glass. I forget 
who it was who gave one to me. Of course, I found rather quickly 
that when things were too far away, they were blurred. Then I 
found later that I could hold the magnifying glass some distance 
from me and things become inverted. I also learned how to have 
the image focused on a piece of paper to get an inverted image of 
things. It was very fortunate I didn't try to get an inverted 
image of the sun [laughter], because that would have focused the 
sunlight on me. Probably I had tried it on some bright light, and 
that light was too strong for me so I didn't dare try it on the sun. 

RL: You also mentioned that, as a child, you had made a toy telephone, 
never having seen a real one. I found that very unusual. 

Chao: Yes. It was something like the lower part of a Chinese hu-ch 'in-- 
two-string violin—except that I used a section of bamboo with some 

Chao: kind of strong paper and string attached to a short stick going 
through the paper. When you pulled on the string, whatever 
happened to the string would be transferred to the diaphragm. 
We had two of them, one at each end, so that if you talked at one 
end, the other end would be the receiver. For near distances, 
it wasn't much fun since you could hear the sound directly, so 
we contrived to have two at some distance. 

It's no fun if the two persons are too close or see each 
other. So we tried to turn corners. Yet, if we turned corners, 
the string, when it touched a wall or something, wouldn't transmit 
sound since the sound was rather weak. So we managed to keep the 
string from touching the wall by nailing another short string at 
the far end of the corner so that the string would be held by 
another string when we turned a corner. In this way, the speaker 
and the listener couldn't see each other. 

The longest distances we had were through, let me see, several 
courtyards --two or three hundred feet--along a long corridor. 
Still, we had to shout from one end to hear the other. And that 
was the first telephone, before we actually had had any experience 
with a real telephone I 

RL: Were your parents interested in that sort of experiment? 

Chao: They didn't pay too much attention to those things. They thought 
it was all right but didn't put too much importance on it. 

Ghosts and Spirits 

RL: You mentioned a little bit about ghosts and spirits. I know, in 

your wife's autobiography* sometimes you tease her a little bit 
about some of her childhood beliefs that lingered on. Were you 
frightened as a child? 

Chao: Well, I was very much afraid of ghosts, but I didn't believe in 
them. [Laughter] That was about the way it was. I was afraid 
of the dark, and I was afraid of ghosts and other things like that, 
And in one instance, coming to Changchow from the South, I was 

*Buwei Yang Chao, Autobiography of a Chinese Woman, p. 38, John 
Day Company, New York, 1947. 

Chao: sitting on a bed and suddenly, something appeared beside me like 
an image of someone and I was greatly frightened by that, and I 
was even more frightened of ghosts since then. 

Still, theoretically, I didn't believe in them [laughs], 
RL: And yet you saw--did you say a human being or an inhuman being? 

Chao: Well, it looked like the shadow of a human being. I still haven't 
got an adequate explanation. 

But something which I could explain later was a shadow of a 
moving flame of a lamp, an oil lamp with a wick. When I wouldn't 
go to sleep, people would frighten me — they told me, "Go to sleep, 
otherwise ch'uch'utz would come." (I didn't know what "ch'uch'utz" 
were.) But anyway, from the tone in which they mentioned the thing 
I thought it must be something terrible. And then, one night, I 
thought I did find "ch'uch'utz." 

We used to have a very dim oil light lit through the night. 
It had maybe a quarter of an inch of wick outside, so it was a 
very small flame. And the least little breeze would cause the 
flame to flicker. That caused shadows—lights and shadows around 
the ceiling. And I decided that that was ch'uch'utz I had discovered, 
I could explain it, and still I was afraid of ch'uch'utz. 

Eclipses, Rites, and Religion 

RL: What sorts of ritual or religious practices were observed by your 

family? You mentioned that your grandfather had to kowtow at the 
time of the total eclipse of the moon. 

Chao: Well, it was sort of semi-religious, because it was not based on 

any belief in any deities — just some heavenly phenomenon one ought 
to have reverence for. I think I have it dated somewhere. In 
fact, I had to go to Dr. Shou-shu Huang of the Goddard Space Flight 
Center to get the exact date of that eclipse. December 27, 1898, 
23 hours, 38 minutes, GMT. 

RL : I find it confusing to try to separate out practices and festivals 

of Confucian or Buddhist type and see what was really going on. It 
seemed that, at least in your family, your grandfather had a 
ceremonial obligation as a magistrate. And then you children 


RL: enjoyed the festivals so much that you carried out the rites. 

Is that accurate? 

Chao: Yes, that's right. 

RL: What about your parents? 

Chao: I think they more or less thought that was the proper thing-- 
that was about all—and they didn't take it too seriously. We 
knew that throughout history eclipses were predictable. 

RL: Were other people afraid of them? 

Chao: Yes, some of them were--I wouldn't say all, but some were. They 
were afraid that the heavenly dog would swallow up the moon or 
the sun. I didn't see a total eclipse of the sun until very 
much later; this was a total eclipse of the moon. 

And this first time was really very impressive. The shadow 
moved until there was only a small crescent left, and it was 
supposed to have disappeared, but instead of disappearing, you 
had a whole shadowy kind of moon because of the earth's shine 
from the sun. In fact, from the moon you would see an earth with 
sunset all around. That's what was most impressive. But also it 
looked a little uncanny with the moon so dark, and with all that 

They blew horns and--I don't know if they used guns --but 
they blew horns and it was noisy. Yeah, we were supposed to beat 
on pots and pans to scare the heavenly dog. 

RL: Did people let off firecrackers? 

Chao: I don't remember whether we had firecrackers. 

RL: What else along the lines of religion or practices that were close 

to religion do you remember from your childhood? 

Chao: Well, of course, ancestral worship was a regular thing and New 

Year's and other festivals. But the fifth of the fifth moon, the 
mid-autumn festival, that was supposed to be secular, and the 
grown-ups didn't take as much notice of it as the children did. 
Although we looked forward to it as one of the few days we didn't 
have school. We had only the New Year vacation of two or three 
weeks, and the rest of the year no Sundays: every day was a school 


Chao: day except the fifth of the fifth moon and the mid -autumn festival. 
RL : Hard for modern children to imagine that." 

You mentioned ancestor worship. What exactly happened in 
your household? 

Chao: Well, we would have the portraits of ancestors hung up in the 
hall, and on New Year's we would kowtow to them, and we would 
make offerings. 

RL : Exactly what did a child's kowtow consist of? It's not the same 

as an imperial kowtow is it? 

Chao: What's an imperial kowtow? 

RL : I may have got it wrong, but I think it was kneeling, and banging 

your head on the floor nine times. 

Chao: Well, not nine times. Kowtow was just once usually. You'd kneel 

down, and you didn't have to touch your head to the ground. You'd 

do that to your elders on New Year's Eve to say good-bye to them, 
and the next morning you'd wish them "Happy New Year." 

Traveling with the Family 

RL: You seem to have traveled a great deal as a child. 

Chao: Yes. Because of frequent changes in my grandfather's assignments, 
we moved about once a year. The year I was born, or maybe the next 
year, we moved from Tientsin to Peking, then to Paoting. As far 
as I can recall, we lived in: 

1895 Tz'uchow 

1896 Ch'ichow 

1897 Paoting 

1898 Chichow 

1899 Paoting 

1900 Chichow 

1901 Changchow 

RL: Do you think the traveling was upsetting to you? 


Chao: Well, on the whole I enjoyed traveling, except when I bumped my 
head against the old mule carriages that swung right and left; 
when it swung to the left I would bump the right side of my head, 
and so forth. Because those carriages had no rubber wheels. They 
had wheels reinforced by half inch metal parts on the rim, so it 
was very hard traveling in them. 

But I enjoyed the scenery and the stopping in these hotels, 
inns, and we enjoyed the coarse food, because the food at home 
was too refined. We ate corn bread, and so forth, and we didn't 
eat corn bread much at home. Corn was supposed to be hard to 

RL : Would that have been considered peasant food? 

Chao: Yes. We would eat rice, which seemed to me much less interesting. 

We didn't travel so much on boats except a couple of times, 
because there were not so many navigable rivers in the North anyway. 
But we did travel a lot from place to place. 

But one night, when everything was packed, and I was sleeping 
with my mother--! was sleeping outside on a bed, and everything 
was packed and the room looked deserted, and when my mother went 
to sleep first, I started to cry, because I felt all alone. 
Although, ordinarily when she went to sleep I didn't notice. 

RL: You said you never traveled after dark. Was this because of fear 
of bandits? 

Chao: Yes, we usually got up quite early. In summer it's light early. 
We had a very short stop for lunch, and we always found someplace 
to stay before it was dark. 

One occasion that was much later, after my grandfather died 
and we were on our way back to the South. On that occasion we 
traveled by boat with my grandfather's bier. And we had two guards 
assigned by the government with two guns. But those were the years- 
that was after the Boxer Uprising already and there were a lot of 
foreigners around. Two soldiers came up to the boat; they said 
they wanted to borrow our guns for the protection of the country. 
So we just thought it was wise to let them have them. I suppose 
we were near Tientsin, near big cities. 

RL : Were you ever actually bothered by bandits or thieves? 


Chao: No, not that I remember. On the whole we were not molested. But 
on the way, from Ch'ichow, I think, we stopped one place, and 
from the boat we could see a temple on shore where there were 
Boxers practicing rites, using red --they always had red things 
over their shoulders. In fact, as children we even used chair 
covers to play Boxers. 

RL: What was the feeling of your family in your home, particularly 

your grandfather, about the troubled times in which you were 
living. Was he sympathetic at all with the Boxers? 

Chao: We were somewhat skeptical because of the way—because they were 
afraid of foreigners and thought they had too much influence. 
But still I wasn't sure that the approach of the Boxers wasn't 
the right approach. 

RL: What about the dynasty—was this discussed at all? 

Chao: Well, my father sometimes said that things were going so badly 

he was afraid there was going to be a change, and my mother would 
say, "S-s-sh, don't talk so loud [laughter], we might be overhead." 
So we were somewhat conscious that the Ch ' ing Dynasty was declining. 

And of course also, the racial sentiment was present through 
out, because of the domination of the Manchus of the indigenous 


RL: What about practices such as foot binding? Did your mother have 

bound feet, for example? 

Chao: Yes, she had bound feet. I think my two female cousins had bound 
feet. It lasted quite long. [Pause] It was only in the middle 
1900s that there began to be liberated feet, as you'd call it. 

RL: And long hair--I imagine the men all wore queues. 

Chao: Yes. In fact I wore a queue until a few days before I went abroad 
to America. And when I asked the barber to cut off my queue, he 
asked me twice before he dared to do it [laughing], because in one 
case a wife committed suicide because her husband had his queue 
cut before going abroad. 


RL: Really! 

Chao: Sometimes the Chinese students going abroad would have their 
queues wound on top with a hat on so you wouldn't see it. 

RL: Why did you want yours cut off; what did it symbolize to you? 

Chao: Well, in my time it was already a general practice. I was in 

the second batch of Chinese who were sent abroad under the Boxer 
Indemnity Fund. 

RL: What did you wear as a child? 

Chao: Well, in those days foreigners described the Chinese "men wearing 
women's dress and the women wearing men's dress." [Laughter] We 
had the long gowns on formal occasions. At home we'd have a 
short jacket, but when we'd go outside we'd always have long gowns. 
Even in summer we'd wear something similar. And on more formal 
occasions we'd have a jacket over the long gown. We'd wear the 
so-called "melon" caps, like half a melon with a knob on top, but 
I think in summer we didn't wear them. 

RL: And bright colors? 

Chao: Well, sometimes just plain white or light color. In winter we'd 

have darker color --wadded cottons. And women would have trousers. 
And short dresses — they would be half length. And women wore hats 
in winter. That was—what do you call it?--long, about three inches 
wide in front and long in back behind the hair --that was the style 
for women's hats. And women didn't wear queues except as a child. 
When they grew up, they'd have a hairdo. Sometimes women spent 
a lot of time with their hairdo, combing and putting in flowers, 
and so forth. 

RL: Very beautiful, I think, some of the styles of that period. But 
very complicated. 

Chao: Yeah. Well, my aunt from Changshu who visited with us in the 

North would spend the better part of the morning having her hair 
done properly! 

RL: What was your attitude to foreigners as a child? Perhaps you 

didn't see any until you were going South after your grandfather's 


Chao: Well, I had a foreign doctor to treat me for a hernia and saw 
him again a couple of times. But I didn't have any special 
impression, really, for or against them. 

RL: Did your grandfather talk about western influences? 

Chao: Not much. He didn't talk about it a lot, not that I remember. 

RL: Or about foreign innovations, things like steamships, and perhaps 
railroads, guns--? 

Chao: I don't recall what my grandfather said or even what my parents 

RL: It's curious, when one reads the history of China of that period 
the impact of the West seems to be one of the most troubling and 
important things, particularly at the end of the 19th century. 

Life in Changchow and Soochow 

RL: After your grandfather died, what happened to your family? 

Chao: Well, of course, we had to leave for the South. It was quite a 

trip from Ch'ichow to Tientsin. That was one of the few times we 
took a boat to Tientsin. That was the first time I saw the sea-- 
from Tientsin to Taku, that is the name of the port of Tientsin. 
We had fair wind that day, and we made that trip very quickly on 
the river boat to the ship. And when we went out near the ship, 
it was very windy and the junk rocked quite a lot. But by the 
time we went on board, it looked as if we were in the city again, 
because the big ship, the S.S. Hsin Fung--I remember the name, 
but I've forgotten the name of the company — the S.S. Hsin Fung 
sailed from that port, from Tientsin, to Shanghai. 

RL: Was that a steamship? 

Chao: Yes. We went past the so-called blackwater ocean. Actually, 

it was dark blue. And the sea was yellow because of the Yellow 
River, and when we were near ing Shanghai the sea was also yellow 
because of the river, Yangtze. 

It was quite a new experience for us, different from the life 
we had on the river junks. And the first time I saw an electric 


Chao: bulb, one of those 16-candle power bulbs--was between two cabins, 
so that each cabin would have 8-candle power. That was in the 
hold. And there were a few foreigners on board, and we got to 
see them play cards, and one thing I remembered of what they said 
I couldn't understand to this day. I heard more than once I think 
something like, "Mia mia bolo bolo." I never knew what language 
it was or what it meant. They tried to talk Chinese to me, but 
I couldn't understand their Chinese. 

I was very much seasick the first couple of days, but then 
I got my sea legs and enjoyed sitting outside. Before that I 
used to enjoy seeing—well , I was very timid about most things 
about boats, and so forth--! enjoyed seeing a thunder storm. And 
thunder storms at sea were even more impressive than on land, 
because I could see the streaks of lightning right from the water. 

RL: Then where did you settle? 

Chao: We went to Shanghai for some days. Grandfather Feng Kuang-yii and 
some of my uncles on my mother's side came to meet us. We spent 
some time in Shanghai. Then we took the riverboat back to Changchow. 
And in those days you would have one small steamer drawing maybe 
half a dozen junks in a string, and we would take one of them back 
to Changchow. 

My house, which I saw quite recently [1973] --it's still there- 
was right next to a river. 

RL: How did it impress you after all these years? Was it much changed? 

Chao: Well, my house was hardly changed, except that one long corridor 
along the various courtyards --each courtyard belonged to one 
branch of the family, from my great-grandfather down — that was 
open; the top was taken off, so it became a lane instead of an 
inside corridor. Some of my second cousins still occupy one of 
the courtyards, and the others were divided up. Of course, 
nowadays nobody owns any land, so they just assign various people 
to a residence at very low rent. 

That part where we occupied still looked about the same, 
and also the part that my cousins occupied looked about the same. 
And the street had hardly changed. The only noticeable change 
was that the western part of the city, which wasn't built up, 
now is full of life. 


Chao: The same is true of Nanking, which we passed through briefly 

recently. The northwestern part was quite wild and open, and now 
it's all built up. But the original places are still about the same. 

RL: It must have been a curious feeling to go back there. 

Chao: The same in Peking. Outside the Tien An Men, the Square of Heavenly 
Peace, the central part, they've widened the streets to fifty yards- 
very wide—and a lot of changes in the buildings. But in the back 
streets, it was still much the same. We could find the house we 
were married in in 1920. 

RL: What did you do about schooling when you were back in Changchow? 

Chao: I went to--let me see--I went back in 1902 and we had a teacher 

who wasn't very efficient. I was something of a truant [laughing] 
at that time and for a couple of years. My father taught me for a 
year, and I wasn't very attentive; he taught us Tso's Chronicles, 
the first time we learned to chant prose. 

And then very quickly- -my mother and father died in the same 
year, in 1904--and I was sent to stay with my mother's older sister 
in Soochow. They were from Changchow but they lived in Soochow. I 
think now they spell it "Soo-chow," to distinguish it from Suchow, 
in northwest China in Kiangsu province. This Soochow was near 
Shanghai. It's between Nanking and Shanghai. 

My hometown is near Shanghai; Soochow is between Shanghai 
and Changchow. I stayed there for one year with my aunt, whom I 
called "Godmother." And her eldest son was supposed to be my 
teacher; he taught me for one year there. 

I would read in Changchow dialect but outside I learned to 
speak the Soochow dialect. The district name of Soochow is Wu, 
so that is the dialect—the Wu dialect per excellence. 

RL: So by then how many Chinese dialects did you speak comfortably? 

Chao: Well, I could speak Mandarin, Changchow, Soochow, and Changshu. I 
could speak four. 

RL: At age of--? 

Chao: By the age of twelve. 

RL : You mentioned the death of your parents. How did they die? It 
must have been a great blow to you. 


Chao: Yes. My mother died of consumption and my father died of dysentery 
within a half a year of her. 

RL: And you were an only child. 

Chao: Yes. Although my three other cousins were practically their 
children, because their parents passed away much earlier. 

And then in 1906 I returned to Changchow when my great uncle's 
second wife returned to Changchow to take care of the children 
in the Changchow home. 

"Foreign" School 

Chao: Then I went to the first so-called "foreign school." By "foreign 
school" we meant a school in which children from many different 
families go together. 

RL: But all Chinese. 

Chao: Yes. Then we had all different subjects taught—mathematics , and 
natural science, physical exercise. And the teacher of English 
and physical exercise was a graduate of St. John's University in 
Shanghai. He was from Shanghai --by the name of Shen. He would talk 
at length in English and nobody understood what he was talking about.' 

Last year I went to that place. There's still a school, 
rebuilt. It's called Ch ' i Shan School. I spent one year there. 
That was really a school in the modern sense. 

RL: That was very progressive of your family, wasn't it, at that 
point, to send you to a foreign school? 

Chao: Yes, well, we could have stayed home; five or so of my family did. 
Another of my big family, a second cousin, also went to the same 

RL: Was this decision criticized at all in the family? 

Chao: No, no. It began to be the thing to do. I spent one year there. 
And then after that, from 1907 to 1910, I spent three years in 
Nanking, that is, apart from vacations, during which I always came 


Chao: back, oh, on some vacations I stayed in Nanking. I went to Kiang- 
nan High School--it really was a sort of junior college. But I 
was in the preparatory department of that place, so that was 
equivalent to high school. 

There of course there were many more subjects taught. 

RL: You say that you heard English for a year in the Ch ' i Shan 

School—was it a serious attempt to teach you--? 

Chao: No, no. [Laughing] I suspect Shen was just showing off. Nobody 
understood him. But in Nanking we had really regular, serious 
lessons and learned English. 

In fact, it was in Nanking that I met my first American 
teacher, David J. Carver. 

RL: What impression did he make on you? 

Chao: Well, I thought, "Now, this is the real English language." But 
he was from Nashville, Tennessee and had a Nashville accent. So 
he would say "Dzero" for "zero" and "liamp" instead of "lamp," and 
so forth. And I thought, "This is the real English." [Laughter] 

RL: .Did you find English hard to learn—obviously , you're a linguist 
and perhaps that's a silly remark. 

Chao: No I didn't. Of course, he talked slowly to us students. We 
had the Jones reader, I think, Jones Third Reader. 

RL: I've heard so many Chinese students complain bitterly about the 

problems of learning English, particularly in Hong Kong. Was 
there much complaint in your school? 

Chao: Not that I noticed. We had some very good Chinese teachers of 

RL: What other things did you learn? 

Chao: Well, we learned --natural science. Yes, we had a demonstration, a 
dissection of a dog, the whole of several classes together. 

RL: That was very advanced, wasn't it? 

Chao: Yes. 


Chao: And drawing—we had a Japanese teacher with a translator. 

RL: That's curious. Was he teaching Japanese style painting? 

Chao: No. I think he just taught us drawing and painting. 

RL: With western perspective? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: I meant to ask you this earlier when we were talking about music 
whether your family painted as many scholar-intellectuals did? 

Chao: Occasionally, but not much. 

RL: And were you taught to paint in— 

Chao: Well, I would draw—mountains and clouds and such. They didn't 
put special emphasis on it. 

RL: It's very interesting that you should have had a Japanese teacher. 
Had he studied in Europe? 

Chao: I don't know. 

RL : Did you enjoy it? 

Chao: Yes. Oh, we had not only physics, but we also had military drill 
in Nanking, and we were given guns. 1 

RL: Real guns? 

Chao : Real guns . 

RL: But not real ammunition? 

Chao: Not loaded, no. 

RL: Was it a mission school? 

Chao: It was a government school, provincial. I think I was in Nanking 
when the Emperor and the Empress Dowager died, and during those 
days, we were already very much revolut ion -minded , so that during 
the ceremony, the funeral for the Empress Dowager, when we were 
ordered to kowtow--all the students—and the master of ceremonies 


Chao: said, "Commence lamentations," and we all laughed aloud. And 

you couldn't tell when we were prostrate whether we were laughing 
or crying. [Laughter] 

RL: Would you have been punished severely if you'd been caught? 

Chao: I don't know. It depends on who the authorities were there then. 
It was only a couple of years before the Revolution. 

RL: You say you were already revolutionary. What was influencing you? 
Were you reading newspapers or hearing speeches, pamphlets--? 

Chao: Well, that's one thing, but all along somehow we were conscious 

that we were Chinese under the domination of the Manchus--foreigners, 
It was felt by the majority somehow--! mean they didn't dare speak 
aloud about it. 

RL : Then, your feelings, or the feelings of your schoolmates, were 
much more against the Manchus than against Westerners? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: Was this school all for boys? 

Chao: All for boys, yes. 

RL: What happened to your cousins? 

Chao: They all studied at home. 

RL: So it's a little later that girls get the chance to go to school? 

Chao: Yes. 

I still kept up a correspondence with the family of my first 
American teacher; of course, he passed away some years ago. 

RL: Was he connected with a religious group? 

Chao: Not especially. He was employed by the government school there. 
I don't remember how he'd been introduced—but he did try to 
interest us in the Christian church. It was at his house that I 
remember singing some hymns and so forth. But he didn't especially 
try to convert us. 


RL: Were you tempted to convert? Did it attract you at all, or not? 

Chao: I don't think I was ever attracted to regular membership of a 

church. The nearest I got was when I later studied at Harvard. 
My room was right near the church where Samuel Crothers, the fine 
essayist, preached. Because he was a good essayist, his sermons 
were very good to listen to, so I often went there. But he was 
a Unitarian. People didn't think Unitarianism was the most proper 
form of Christianity. 

Youth's Improvement Society 

Chao: In this period I've been talking about, we organized a society 

for benefits to the youths, a youth improvement society or something 
like that. We bought a number of books to form a loan library, 
in which there were a lot of modern books — translations of foreign 
works and so forth, including scientific books. It was really a 
very modest one. We just spent our very modest allowances, and 
books were cheap, of course, then, these Chinese translations of 
foreign works . 

RL: And how were these activities regarded by various authorities at 
school and at home? 

Chao: They rather encouraged us to do that. We met at different homes. 

RL : So this was not disapproved of but was given some—perhaps consider 
able support by the students' families? 

Chao: As far as I remember, they didn't give any extra support, but they 
approved of what we were doing. 

RL: In your autobiography, when you were discussing the Youth's 

Improvement Society, you mentioned that you borrowed a copy of 
Liang Ch'i-ch'ao's journal, H s in -Min T s ' ung - Pao . I wanted to ask 
you how influential that was. 

Chao: I think it was quite an influential journal in those days; it 

lasted quite a few years. Lots of people were interested in new 
things. Of course, this was always written in the classical 


RL: It's hard for me to put into words, and it may be hard for you 
to answer it. Your early education was exclusively classical. 

Chao: Yes. Of course, everybody's was. 

RL: What sort of effect did it have on you to move into this twentieth - 
century material, whether western works in translation or the 
writings of a man like Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, who was interested in 
bringing modern ideas to Chinese. Do you remember how you felt 
about it? 

Chao: Well, I was always interested in the new things but 

through the classical language. Of course, the later practice 
of writing in the colloquial didn't start until after Hu Shin's 
1917 "first gun" we call it, for revolution in the language, 
advocating writing the language the way you talked. And the funny 
thing about that 1917 article was that that article itself was 
written in the classical style [laughter] because he wasn't used 
to writing in the colloquial. 

To be sure, a lot of old novels, such as The Dream of the 
Red Chamber, were written consciously in the colloquial style; 
at least the dialogues were given in colloquial form. That's 
not the usual way people write about things in general. Or even 
familiar letters between members of the family, you still wrote 
in the classical language. 

RL: Did it seem to you like an opening of the door to leave the 

classics and move into the world of people like Liang Ch'i-ch'ao 
and western authors in translation? 

Chao: It seemed to me something in addition rather than completely 

discarding the classics. When I went to school in Nanking in the 
late 1910s, we still had courses in the classical language and 
wrote essays in classical form. 

RL: So it didn't create a conflict situation for you. Other than 

Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, were you reading works of Sun Yat-sen or other 
revolutionary materials at this time? 

Chao: As far as I can remember, we knew about him more or less second 
hand, rather than directly. We learned those things from Liang 
Ch'i-ch'ao's journal as well as other new magazines. 

RL: Was there any danger attached to reading and circulating such 
materials at that time, with the Manchus still in power? 


Chao: The Manchu Dynasty lasted till 1911; advocating the use of the 
colloquial didn't start until 1917. Everybody took for granted 
that you wrote in the classical style. 

RL: I didn't mean a question of which language to use, whether wen yen 
or not, but in reading material, some of which was proscribed, or 
reading about it, did this put you in any risk from the authorities? 

Chao: I suppose if we had openly advocated these things, it could have 
been unsafe. We took it for granted that things were changing, 
and even in the early 1900s, my father would say, "Things are 
getting so bad, I'm afraid there's going to be some big change." 
So people rather expected things were going to change in the 
declining years of the Manchu Dynasty. 

Sixty Years of Diaries 

RL: Something else that you started very early was keeping a diary. 

Chao: Yes. I think since 1906, I've kept it almost every day, with a 
few exceptions, down to the present. 

RL: Were you following a Chinese tradition? What made you start with 

Chao: I don't know. My father kept a diary, although not quite con 
sistently all the time. It was very common; I think some of my 
cousins kept diaries. And I kept it up. Of course, in those 
days, everybody wrote in the classical idiom, and I kept it up- 
writing in the classical style—even after I came to America to 
study. I wrote in classical Chinese in my diary, so that a phrase 
"going downtown to get my eyeglasses" wouldn't be written in the 
idiom of everyday speech but still in quite classical form, 
translating literally "downtown" and "eyeglasses." 

RL: I got the impression from talking to some of my Chinese friends 
that diaries, in many cases at least, were more like date books, 
a record of activities either completed or planned, whereas some 
of the quotations you insert in your autobiography are quite 
introspective and are more like a journal — a record of feelings 
and thoughts. 


Chao: Yes, I did go into that to some extent. But on the whole, I 

emphasized giving the outline of the day's activities, without 
going into too great detail. Because I noticed that some people 
who tried to write an essay — like Hu Shih who wrote an essay 
almost everyday—that is such a job that you couldn't keep it 
up all the time. The one reason that I succeeded in keeping it 
all the time was that I made it simple and almost always in the 
form of an outline. 

RL: You mentioned that although you lost many things in China as a 
result of the war with Japan, your diary was saved along with a 
large number of photographs because you sent them to America. 
What did you plan to do with it? You must have had many things 
that were important, some of which were lost. 

Chao: Well, I thought that those things couldn't be recovered, whereas 
books --even old books --perhaps could be found in libraries and 
so forth. Those were especially personal things, the diaries 
and the photographs I had taken myself. About forty-five hundred 
of them, I think, I sent to my friend, Robert W. King of the Bell 
Telephone labs in New York during the war, in 1937--one of the 
few things I saved. 

RL: Do you still keep your diary? 

Chao: Yes. Now I write in my diary in English with an outline in 
Chinese. It's bilingual now. 

Boxer Indemnity Fund Scholarship 

RL: When did you decide that you would like to study in America? 

Chao: Well, I think my teacher, Carver, had some influence, and then, 
also I was interested in science. That was a good reason to 
complete the examinations to study abroad. 

The first class came out in 1909. I was in the second class, 
It was after the United States decided to refund from the Boxer 
Indemnity. There were quite a few classes. I think the Boxer 
Indemnity Fund lasted till 1933 or thereabouts. 

RL: The source of the money was Chinese, wasn't it? 


Chao: Yes. The Chinese paid America, and America refunded it. 
RL: Because of the damage done by the Boxers? 

Chao: That's right, yes. Later on, I was in charge of the students 
who were sent out under these auspices, from 1932-1933 and was 
responsible for winding up affairs after the last students had 

RL: What was the procedure for the examination? I think the old 

examinations in the classical system of education have been very 
well described. But I've never read how the Boxer Indemnity 
students were examined. 

Chao: Well, we had to have been to some modern schools. And they 
would have the students just go and take examinations for 
different subjects—English and Chinese. The theme for Chinese 
composition was "Without ruler and compasses one cannot form 
circles and squares (sic) from Chapter four of Mencius. I don't 
remember what the English was. 

RL: How long did you have to write in Chinese? 

Chao: Well, we had one morning to write compositions. And then another 
morning or afternoon for English. And then if you passed Chinese 
and English, then you'd go on to the other subjects. I even tried 
some Latin which I'd studied for just a few months. That was not 

RL: What was required—mathematics? 

Chao: Yes, mathematics, some science—physics , botany, zoology, physiology, 
and chemistry--history--Chinese history. 

RL: No European or American history was expected of you? 

Chao: No, no. We took exams in at least half a dozen subjects. Later, 

I found I was listed as number two out of seventy-two who qualified. 

RL: Then after you were selected, did you have any sort of indoctrination 
or training program before going? 

Chao: No, nothing at all. We went—on our way out we stopped in Shanghai 
where we had a reception by the American consulate, and then they 
told us about how things are in America in an informal way. 


RL: But had you any experience or practice in things like Western 
table settings—using knives and forks instead of chopsticks? 

Chao: I don't remember anything like that. I'd practiced wearing 

Western clothes. And we were told that in our outfit we should 
order one cap and one derby. [Laughter] Derby on formal 
occasions, cap on informal occasions. But after I went to 
America, I had very few occasions on which I needed to wear the 

RL: Western clothes must have seemed very constricting after the-- 

Chao: Yes, they weren't as comfortable as the dress I was used to. 

I wasn't very seasick. Of course, the coastwise ship was 
much rougher than the big one. It was the SS China that we took 
from Shanghai to San Francisco. 

RL : And I suppose you stopped in Hawaii. 

Chao: Yes, we stopped in Hawaii. We had a reception, and we had 

sandwiches because Hawaii was then called the Sandwich Islands. 
[Laughter] I remember being much impressed over the outlook in 
Hawaii. Of course, it didn't look like America we were thinking 

RL : How many students were there? 

Chao: We had a class of seventy-two going to various places after they 

RL: Is there anything else you'd like to say about those years before 
you went to America? 

Chao: Well, in contrast to the recent disappointment about Kohoutek, 

we had a great time seeing Halley's comet, just before I left for 
America, that summer in Peking. It was really impressive. You 
know in those north Chinese houses with square courtyards, that 
comet swept from one corner of the courtyard right to the other 
corner—extended over the whole sky. It was really bright. Some 
people were scared that something would happen, but most people 
were interested in seeing it as a phenomenon. 


RL: How were the Boxer Indemnity students assigned to American 
universities in 1910? Did you have any choice? 

Chao: Yes. We were rather free in having our choice. 
RL: Why did you choose Cornell? 

Chao: I think one reason was that Hu Tun-fu or T.F. Hu, five years 

ahead of me in the class of 1909, who was one of the three leaders 
of our group, explained to me about things and told me about 
Cornell. So I chose it. 

He was also the one who told me the difference between pure 
science and applied science. As a matter of fact, when I started, 
I thought that China was in need of engineering and I was going 
to go into electrical engineering. After he explained the 
difference between pure science and applied science, I decided 
that pure science was the thing for me. After a while, I made it 
so pure that it was mathematics. [Laughter] 

RL: You've in a sense answered the next question I have. Was there 
any pressure put upon the students to choose so-called useful 

Chao: No. Apparently there was no special pressure. Usually, there was 
some urging for you to take subjects that might be useful for the 
reconstruction of the country. But, on the whole, students could 
take anything they liked. For example, Hu Shih was in our class; 
he was going to study agriculture because he and others thought 
it had immediate importance to China. 

Because the underclassmen--freshmen and sophomores --were in 
the lower part of the campus and had to walk the better part of 
a mile to the agricultural college between classes (in those days 
there were, I think, seven minutes rather than ten minutes between 
classes), it was too much of a job [laughter]; so he gave up and 
stayed down in the arts college. 

I think you just changed the whole interpretation of modern 
Chinese history! [Laughter] So Hu Shih decided to go into 
cultural reconstruction because he was on the wrong side of the 
hill. 1 

RL : Were the students all men? 

Schneider : 


Chao: Yes, all men. There were a couple of girls, but they were not 
under the same auspices. There were about fourteen--! don't 
remember whether there were fourteen from this group to Cornell 
or whether there were fourteen in the class of Cornell. There 
were more than a dozen Chinese in our class. Hu Shih was in our 
class. And we had M.T. Hu in our class. 

RL: Who? 

Chao: M.T. --full name, Minfu Ta Hu. And there was S.S. [ Shien-sheng] Hu. 
Well, other than Hu Shih, the others were cousins. And so there 
were three Hus in our class and we couldn't tell "Who was Hu." 

At that time Hu Shih spelled his name Suh Hu, instead of Hu Shih. 
"Shih" is the standard Wade-Giles spelling in the Chinese order. 
Suh Hu is the foreign order, with the last name last. The reason 
for that "h" is that it had an entering tone, and he was a student 
at Shanghai, where they had the entering tone, so "suh" really 
stands for the syllable [sa 7 ]; the "h" stands for the glottal 
stop [?]. But everyone called him Suh Hu. 

RL: This reminds me of something I wanted to ask you. Exactly how 
do you like your name presented now? 

Chao: I think recently I've consistently used Yuen Ren Chao. Very often, 
people are abbreviating, using initials for Chinese names, if 
they see a small letter in the second syllable they don't use it, 
and you get one initial. And since Chinese names are so short, 
there's too much chance for confusion. 

RL: There was something else I wanted to ask. Running right through 
your life, evidently from a very early age, you were fascinated 
by the differences in dialects and were exposed to a lot of 
dialects perhaps earlier than some Chinese because your family 
moved so much. Was this interest shared by other students or 
were you exceptionally interested in this? 

Chao: I think, on the whole, the Chinese have been language -conscious 

or dialect-conscious because of the variety of dialects they have 
come into contact with in what we call the South, Shanghai and the 
lower Yangtze river region. There is usually a mixture of speakers 
of various dialects, and you have to get used to understanding 
various dialects. In Shanghai, for example, most of the people 
speak the Shanghai dialect, but the coolies (rickshaw men and so 


Chao: forth) usually come from the north of the river where they speak 
a variety of southern Mandarin. We call it the River North 
dialect; actually it's a form of southern Mandarin, not far from 
that of Nanking, which is the standard for southern Mandarin. 

RL: So you wouldn't say, perhaps, that you were exceptionally 

Chao: Not exceptional, compared with some of the others of my acquaintances 
of relatively the same age. 




. tg% Yuen Ren, Grandfather. Big Brother Coiwm (Yang) Peng-Sriih 

. 1902 (Maternal) grandparent! seated. Mother standing behind Grandpa's right 

Continental Hotel in 
Peking, c. 1921 

C. 1910 







Cornell. 1910-1915. B.A. in Mathematics 

RL: I'd like to start asking you about your studies in America. 

When you arrived here, in San Francisco, you said you were met by 
Chiang Monlin? 

Chao: That's right. He was a senior at Cal at that time. 

RL: I've read some of his autobiography.* I wondered how you remembered 
him, whether you remained friends, and whether you could expand a 
little on your comments on him. 

Chao: I didn't see much of him at that time but of course, I saw a lot 
of him in later years. He was one of the leaders on this sort of 
reception committee for us--a local student body. We stayed only 
a few days, I think, in San Francisco. We arrived more or less 
about the time of the admission of California to the States; there 
was a big celebration on the streets, and I thought America was 
always like that. [Laughter] 

We saw on our sightseeing tour the ruins of the San Francisco 
Fire; I called it the Earthquake, but they called it the Fire. 
So the ruins in 1910 had still not been all cleared. Only four 

RL : What had you expected of America, and how did your impressions 
differ from your expectations when you first came? 

*Chiang Monlin, Tides from the War. A Chinese Autobiography 
(New Haven, 1947). 


Chao: San Francisco, of course, was impressive and more or less looked 
the way I thought it would be. But when we went east and settled 
down in Ithaca, New York, and at Cornell University, I was so 
surprised at all those little houses that looked like shacks and 
not like the cities I was expecting to see from postcards in 
which there are usually rows and rows of apartment buildings like 
the appearance of Beacon Street in Boston. It was only when I 
went to the campus that I began to see some of the bigger buildings. 

RL: How were you received by the American authorities and the students 
at Cornell? 

Chao: There had already been some Chinese students at Cornell. So we 
had a very good reception. Also we had senior members among the 
Chinese student body there. There was quite a number of us — 
fourteen, I think—entering the class of 1914. Speaking now, 
in 1974, I expect to go to my sixtieth class reunion next June. 
It was 1910, so I belong to the class of 1914. Hu Shih was in 
that group of '14. He was known at that time as Suh Hu, as I said 

RL: Were your roommates and friends mostly Chinese? 

Chao: I didn't have so many American friends then. I did have a couple- 
later I lost contact with them—but the majority were Chinese. 

RL: Was this because it was easier for you? 

Chao: Yes. There was more to talk about, and I suppose that's natural 
also for minority students from other groups. 

RL : Your formal study load seemed extraordinarily heavy—eighteen units 
and eight courses. Was this usual? 

Chao: Apparently many of us took that load; I think eighteen was the 

maximum, not the normal load. Some courses needed a lot of homework 
but some didn't; most of the work was done in class. 

RL: Then you mentioned the Cavendish experiment on gravity? 

Chao: Yes. I still think that is the most impressive experiment in 

physics I've ever seen, the idea that simply everything attracts 
everything else. Before that demonstration, students would 
usually think of the law of universal gravitation as having to do 
with moving the planets around the sun— that sort of thing. But 


Chao: in that experiment, Professor [E.L.] Nichols just had two heavy 
lead balls attracting small balls suspended from a fine string. 

At first the distances were equal so the attractions were 
equal. Then, the teacher shifted the two big lead balls so that 
one would attract one small ball one way and the other, the other 
way. Then the string turned, with a mirror attached to it, 
reflected on the wall, it caused the reflection to move. When 
the students saw this, they all stamped their feet on the floor. 
That was when I learned that the way to express interest for a 
student was to stamp your feet on the floor! So that showed that 
everything attracted everything. [Laughter] 

RL: Was Einstein's work being talked about yet in your courses? 
Chao: That was before Einstein's relativity theory. 

RL: Yes, but I think he was publishing already in 1905. I just 
wondered if any of his ideas were being discussed. 

Chao: No. We didn't hear about relativity at Cornell, I don't think. 

RL: Since I did mention Einstein, perhaps out of the correct place, 
do you remember when his ideas first hit the American physics 
community, of which you were, at times, a member? 

Chao: I can't remember exactly when, but certainly it made a great stir; 
people had to revise their ideas about classical physics. 

The first time I met him was years afterwards at Princeton 
when he was at the Institute for Advanced Study. He didn't talk 
physics with me; he asked me about ways to learn Chinese. 

RL: Was he seriously interested, or was this for a theory of linguistics? 

Chao: I think at that time he had some interest in possibly going to 
China—practical questions. 

RL: Did you talk about music at all at that time? 

Chao: No. 

RL: I am impressed with the range of courses you took. 

Chao: I don't think I tried to learn everything. I just couldn't 

concentrate and spread my interest over a number of things. As 


Chao: long as I satisfied the requirements of my major, I could 

branch out into various things. Actually, I didn't stop reading 
or thinking about any of the subjects I was interested in, so 
that it wasn't such a difficult change when I formally changed 
from one department to another. 

RL: In spite of having such a heavy load, I noticed that both as an 
undergraduate and as a graduate student, you took correspondence 

Chao: Yes. I took a correspondence course in French from the International 
Correspondence School in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In those days, 
there were no disc recordings for everyday use. They sent you wax 
cylinders and then even made you do exercises—pronounce French 
in the wax cylinders and send them back for correction. It was 
very good. Unfortunately, maybe that was a too expensive procedure; 
so that school wound up, and I didn't quite finish my course. 

RL: I think it's very interesting to record that. Was that sometime 
between 1910 and 1914? 

Chao: That was between 1910 and 1920, I'm sure—or was it? I think it 
was when I went to Harvard; it was after 1915. 

RL: And that was, in effect, the precursor of the modern language 

labs. Could you play back the cylinder on which you had recorded 
your French? 

Chao: Yes. Of course, those wax cylinders do not last long if you play 
them too many times; they'll wear out. 

Then there was an Esperanto movement, and one of my schoolmates 
even used an Esperanto name. He was Wu Kang; he sometimes signed 
himself K. Wu. Then he added an Esperanto first name--Solvisto-- 
Solvisto K. Wu. Then, one of the upper classmen, Mr. T.F. Hu (who 
lives now in Seattle), after he graduated from Cornell in 1909, went 
back to China and taught in the same school where I studied. He 
started a school in Shanghai, and he named it Universitato Utopia-- 
Utopian university. [Laughter] 

RL: Was Esperanto popular among the American students also? 

Chao: I wouldn't call it popular, but many students were interested. 


The Student Science Journal, K'o Hsueh 

RL: Would you tell me about K'o Hsueh--Science?* It seemed to me an 
extraordinarily ambitious idea for a number of Chinese students 
abroad to publish a science journal for distribution in China. 
For how many years was it published? 

Chao: The journal began in 1915 and ran until 1950. 
RL: What were its purposes? 

Chao: On the whole it was rather a society to encourage or popularize 
science than to carry on original research. After a couple of 
years, the headquarters moved back to China and expanded. In 
fact, there was a science society headquarters in Shanghai, and 
the association was pretty good all those years. 

RL: Can you give a rough figure for the number of subscribers to the 
journal while you were the American editor? [1915-1916] 

Chao: It's hard to tell. Probably, if it was up into the upper hundreds, 
we would consider that a good circulation 

RL: That really is very few, isn't it? 
Chao: Yes, as journals go. 

RL: And were your subscribers individuals, or would some schools 

Chao: Yes, there were schools that subscribed to it as well as individuals, 
RL: Did you publish current research work? 

Chao: Sometimes we reported on current work we read in western magazines, 
journals and so forth. Not so much summaries from encyclopedic 

RL: Do you still have copies? 

Chao: I have volumes one, two, three, and four. I have the first four 
volumes bound. They averaged about a hundred and twenty pages. 

*First issue January, 1915, 121 pp. with eleven articles, science 
news and an appendix "March of Peace" composed by Y.R. Chao. 


RL: How often did it come out? 
Chao: It was a monthly. 

RL: That's an extraordinary amount of work; how did you students 

Chao: Yes. In the early days we were all students. 
RL: It must be quite a rare item now. 

Chao: I can't think of anything like it in those days. Later, the 
same Science Society published Science Pictorial, a similar 
magazine with more pictures, at the same time with Science. 

RL: Do you remember what a subscription cost? 
Chao: I can't remember now. 

RL: Then, when the management was moved entirely to Shanghai, how 
was it funded? Was it able to pay its own way? 

Chao: No, it still had to ask contributions. One thing about this magazine 
is that I think it was in the first number, or one of the first, 
that Hu Shih wrote an article on the importance of modern punctuation 
for purposes of science and gave certain rules about the use of 
punctuation marks. 

RL: Were these rules adopted and found useful? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: How long did you stay associated with it? 

Chao: I think I was a member of the Science Society all along, although 
later, in the later years when it was self-supporting, I think I 
paid the annual nominal sum due but didn't have to make a 

RL: Were they ever able to pay their writers? 

Chao: I don't think their writers were ever paid for their articles. 


Musical Studies, Finances and Outings 

RL: Was it at Cornell that you first took piano lessons? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: What did you enjoy studying on the piano? 

Chao: I liked Burgmuller--his easy pieces. It just happened that my 
teacher assigned it to me and I liked the book. 

RL : Who influenced your ideas in composition? 

Chao: I was interested in harmony, and Chinese music is usually in 

single lines or at most in octaves, or sometimes with other notes 
for bringing out the beats. On the whole, it's one line of 
melody, and I was interested in harmonic or contrapuntal composi 
tion. In most of my compositions, I would have some Chinese 
theme in the melody (some of our tunes are entirely pentatonic) , 
but the harmonies still were western — any harmony would be 

RL : Were you aware at all of what people like Bartok and Stravinsky 
were doing with their national musical traditions? 

Chao: No, I haven't followed that. I've heard their music. After 

listening to Bartok, I found that Stravinsky was quite musical; 
after listening to Schoenberg, I found Bartok musical. [Laughter] 
I still am rather old fashioned in my preferences of styles in 
western music. 

RL : How did you manage for money on your scholarship? 

Chao: Things were really very cheap in those days. I think our board 

was three and a half dollars a week, and we had steak for breakfast. 
[Laughter] You didn't have to have steak. I bought a $350 piano 
for two hundred something and easy payments--a few dollars a month. 
So, we still had money to spare for various things. 

When we started that Chinese journal, Science, we contributed 
out of our own funds since it wasn't a popular magazine and 
wouldn't pay for itself. So each student had to contribute something 
to get that going. 


Chao: Some of us started competing for the most economical eating. 

We managed for--I don't remember the exact f igures--less than 

forty cents a day, then twenty-three cents a day. But after a 

while, two of us became sick and caught cold. [Laughter] 

RL: What other extracurricular activities did you try? 

Chao: I entered a couple of oratorical contests which I didn't win. One 
of the girls comforted me saying that it was all right, but she 
analyzed my speech to pieces [laughter] and made me feel better 
rather than worse. 

RL: Were you very tense? 

Chao: I was tense a few times, but on the whole, I was relaxed and 
enjoyed it. 

RL: This is going ahead a little bit. You said that for four years, 
you didn't leave Cornell; and it wasn't until 1915 that you made 
your first visit to an American family. What did you do in 

Chao: Of course, Cornell is a very scenic place, with beautiful places 
nearby; some even within walking distance if you stretch your 
walk a little, like Taughannock Falls—very scenic. Once we had 
a party walking; the round trip of the walk was twenty-three miles. 
Also Cayuga Lake is a very scenic place to row on. 

RL : Did you feel yourself excluded from the American groups? 

Chao: No, no. We felt that the Americans on the whole were very approach 
able. Sometimes they even went out of their way to talk to us. 

RL: Was there any anti-Oriental, anti-Chinese prejudice? 

Chao: Not that I noticed. 

RL: Were you ever invited to professors' homes? 


Chao: Yes, yes. We were sometimes invited to professors' homes. Some 
times also by organizations like some fraternities. 

Somehow, I felt that Ithaca was enough of a world to move 
around in. [Laughter] There was enough activity around. Also, 
there was Beebe Lake and Watkins Glen and nearby places without 
traveling elsewhere. So I didn't go to New York city all those 
years I was in Cornell. 


RL: Perhaps in one way that reduced the culture shock that many 

foreign students have felt in coming to another country; in a 
sense, you made Cornell your home for four years. Do you think 
that was part of it? 

Chao: Apparently, I don't remember having any what you might call 

cultural shock. We studied about America before we came. In 
the Nanking days, I had an American teacher and was invited to 
his home, and had my first experience listening to piano music. 

RL: After spending those years at Cornell, I was interested that 

instead of going to New York or the national capitol--Washington-- 
your first trip was to the shredded wheat factory at Niagara 
Falls. [Laughter] How did that come about? 

Chao: It was Niagara Falls that we wanted to visit. We just took in 
the usual sights. On those tours, whenever you visited Niagara 
Falls, you were taken to the shredded wheat factory. [Laughter] 

RL: Before we move on to Harvard, is there anything else you'd like 
to say about your years at Cornell and your feelings about your 
student career and where you were going? 

Chao: My memory of Cornell is so complex because of various periods 

I've been there — the first time for five years and again visiting 
there frequently for short periods, then half a year in more recent 
years. My memory, of course, was very much associated with the 
people I knew there, most of my teachers, a few of my fellow-students 
whose acquaintance I had kept up. It seems to be a natural place 
to go back to every once in a while. 

World Events 

RL: What impact did the news of the 1911 revolution have on you? 

Chao: Of course, I was enormously interested in the 1911 revolution when 
I heard about it. Even before that, when we were students, in 
general, we were rather revolutionary-minded. All I wrote in my 
diary when war was declared in Europe was "What folly." 

RL: After the 1911 revolution, how did you get news of China? It 

wasn't particularly well reported, I think, in the American press. 


Chao: I don't remember any extended period during which I missed news 
from China. Shortly after that, I was able to receive word from 
relatives telling us that they were all right. 

RL: Did you have political discussions with your relatives, or were 
they family letters? 

Chao: Usually family letters; they weren't political. 

RL : So how did you all get to learn of political events in China 
during the years that you were away? 

Chao: I think we read both books and newspapers abroad, and we were able 
to get papers from China both before and after the revolution. 

RL: Did you personally subscribe to Chinese newspapers? 

Chao: Not all the time; we did subscribe to some of them. And, of course, 
the library had all the newspapers that were available. 


RL: At Cornell? 
Chao: Yes. 

RL: Was World War 1 talked about much amongst students, or was it 

ignored? The 1914-1918 war was such a catastrophe for Europe; I 
know it had nothing like the same impact on America. 

Chao: Not very much I don't think. They would talk about it occasionally. 
During my quarter spent at Chicago, in the fall of 1918, there was 
great excitement about the armistice. The first time, it was a 
false alarm, and then a few days passed before the real armistice 
came. There was celebration in the streets--f lying ticker tapes 
and everything. 

Harvard Years; 1915-1918. a Ph.D. in Philosophy 

RL: When did you switch from mathematics to philosophy? 

Chao: I made a switch in the fifth year at Cornell, but I didn't find it 
so much of a switch because I'd already taken courses in philosophy 
in undergraduate years. When I went to Harvard, I took history of 
science as a minor field. George Sarton was one of my teachers in 


Chao: the history of science. In fact, I took two courses from him when 
I was the only student.' In one seminar in the history of science, 
we met in a small study of his in the Widener Library where I 
just sat opposite him across a desk and he would lecture. I 
couldn't decide whether I should say "Yes" and nod, or just sit 
there silently like a student in any other class. 

RL: What were the major problems--questions--that were exciting you 
or Sarton then in the field of history of science? 

Chao: We covered mostly earlier periods, but we did touch on the recent 
advances in science. I think he was editing a journal on the 
history of science. 

RL: How do you now appraise him as a scholar? 

Chao: I would think that he was more a scholar than a scientist. He 

was very meticulous in his treatment of documentary material and 
didn't do as much as some other professors like [L.J.] Henderson 
of Harvard, who had more to do with the philosophy of science when 
he talked about the history of science. 

RL: Then this goes back a little bit to the science journal. When 
you were at Harvard, it took you a hundred and thirty hours to 
write an article on Chinese-Occidental uranography.* Did you 
always record how long it took you to write things? 

Chao: I usually make a record of the number of hours I do things every 
day and fractions of an hour down to the half hour. 

RL: Really? If you spend ten minutes talking to the Internal Revenue 
gentlemen, do you enter that? [Laughter] 

Chao: No, not ten minutes. 

RL: Would you call a hundred and thirty hours a long time? 

Chao: I think it's longer than usual. 

RL: Would it include the research time? 

*"Jong-Shi Shingming Twukao," Science (Shanghai) III 1.42-52 and 
3.270-308 (1917). 


Chao: Yes, and drawing up the maps; that took a lot of time. 

Another person I much enjoyed meeting was Ivor A. Richards. 
I was very impressed with his project for Basic English of which 
he was co-inventor with C.K. Ogden. He later went to teach at 
Tsing Hua University where I saw more of him. The first time 
I met him was at Harvard. 

He was concerned very much with the philosophy of language 
as well as the practical handling of the language. I was interested 
enough in Basic English to have written a book in Chinese for 
teaching Basic English and spoke for a series of phonograph records 
for the Chung Hwa Book Company. I tried to speak with a non-American 
accent. That was in the early 1930s.* 

RL: Did you feel that this was successful? Did this catch on in China? 

Chao: There was a good deal of interest, but it wasn't taken too 

seriously. You can't find many things written in or about Basic 
English. But it did catch on in a way. There was a man, Hung 
Shen, who had a project for Basic Chinese using a limited number 
of words instead of a whole vocabulary. 

RL : Could you briefly summarize what the principles were for Richards' 
and Ogden "s Basic English? 

Chao: The idea is just to choose a certain part of the total vocabulary 

so that you could say everything in this limited vocabulary without 
using the whole, so that it would be easier for children and 
foreigners to learn English. You can paraphrase certain words 
with a phrase using the small vocabulary, and you don't have to 
use an extra word. For example, there's no word "wife," a woman 
you're married to. (Actually one of the inventors, C.K. Ogden 
had no wife.) [Laughter] 

RL: It would be very hard for English speaking people to learn to 
speak only Basic English. 

Chao: Yes. They'd have to avoid certain words. But the way they count 
things, each word with various changes counts as one; for example, 
go-went-gone would be one word. 

*Basic English Records. Chung Hwa Book Co, Shanghai, 1934, with 
accompanying records. 


RL: I remember meeting the Richards' in 1950 and found them 
particularly open and interesting people. 

Chao: And they didn't talk in Basic English, either. [Laughter] 

He was really a person of wide interests and liberal views. He 
was a great walker; he took long hikes. He and Mrs. Richards 
had a serious accident driving, and they were crippled for quite 
sometime and still somewhat lame. But being mountain climbers, 
they could still climb mountains after that accidentj 

RL: What else would you like to say about your Harvard years and 
your professors in philosophy? 

Chao: I enjoyed very much the seminar in metaphysics conduced by Josiah 
Royce; he was really very, very brilliant. Then, Professor [H.M.] 
Scheffer was really very meticulous; he was in charge of my thesis 
on "Continuity: A Study in Methodology," concerned with the 
question of the difference between a difference of degree and 
difference of kind, and when it's a difference of kind, is it also 
a difference of degree. 

I remember at the defense of the thesis, at which Professor 
William Ernest Hocking was chairman, after they announced that 
I had passed the examination, Professor Hocking asked me, "Do you 
feel that writing on such a subject has had any effect on your 
life?" I said, "Certainly it didn't help me in my habits of 
indecision." [Laughter] 

RL: You're so frank about your hesitations and depressions and so on 
that I wonder how you overcame these things. I also wondered 
whether you ever thought of psychiatric treatment? 

Chao: Yes. Apparently in those days, I didn't know of the availability, 
if it was available in those days, of psychiatric treatment. My 
periods of depression were often associated with my chronic 
palpitation of the heart, and I went to my doctor about palpitation. 
My doctor did not specify anything; he really just told me to take 
things easy—which is hard to do. That symptom just wore off after 
years . 

Five years ago it was (1969) , I had a coronary attack, and 
there's no symptom of palpitation of the heart after the attack. 

RL: That's a rather radical sort of cure! 


Chao: Well, the palpitations disappeared ten or twenty years before 
the coronary attack. Then the feelings of depression also 

RL: Were you aware of the works of Freud at this time? 

Chao: Yes, I'd read his work on wit and the unconscious. I remember 

that I thought that Freud was a good writer and explained things 
very clearly, but he himself apparently had no wit. [Laughter] 

RL: How do you think that you worked your way through your problems? 
From the external observer's point of view, you were working very 
hard through all those years, except possibly briefly at Chicago. 
You were working productively, and yet subjectively you seemed 
to have considered yourself unsuccessful. 

Chao: I suppose I was just in general an introvert and worried about 
things unnecessarily. Some things I tried to do and succeeded 
in doing; some things I didn't and was disappointed in myself. 

RL: What would you say made these feelings wear off? 

Chao: When I attributed my feelings to things, actually I think it was 
physiological—or should I say pathological. [Laughter] 

In general I was interested in doing things in the most 
efficient way, spending the least amount of time and effort to 
achieve the same result. Sometimes I would make notes of special 
tricks for doing so. 

RL: Were many of your student colleagues—Chinese or other- -working 
on the same thing. Was this part of the times, or was this 
idiosyncratic to you? 

Chao: I don't know if any of my fellow-students took correspondence 
courses like the one I took on personal efficiency; I probably 
saw that course announced in an ad. I made notes of various 
things about personal efficiency. For example, I made one note 
about Simultaneity of Compatible Operations. If you have to do 
things, and you can do things at the same time without conflict, 
then you can do two things at the same time. 

RL: What did you find was compatible? 

Chao: For example, buttoning up my coat buttons and closing the door 
after going out could be done at the same time. [Laughter] 


Chicago and the University of California. Berkeley. 1918-1919 

RL: When Harvard gave you the Sheldon Traveling fellowship, what did 
you decide to do? 

Chao: First, I wandered about New England, mostly walking and visiting 
friends. I left for Chicago in September where I was supposed 
to be mainly studying history of science. 

RL: Whom did you meet? 

Chao: There was Berthold Laufer, of the Field Museum. He knew the 

Chinese field pretty well. He spoke English with some accent. 
It is so long ago, it's hard to recall. He showed me some very 
interesting old Chinese documents, some old editions and so on. 
I forgot who it was who introduced me to him. 

RL: Was there much interest in Chicago at the time in his work? I 
know that the museum there has a magnificent collection. 

Chao: Yes. He wasn't particularly connected with people in the university. 

RL : Was this part of the museum popular and well -supported then, or 
did the big interest in Chinese art come later? 

Chao: I think the big interest was later; that was in 1918 I was in 
Chicago. I was not too happy there. I caught the Spanish 
influenza, and in December I decided to move to Berkeley. 

Things went much better in Berkeley. One of the people I 
enjoyed meeting was Alfred Kroeber. He was a very colorful person. 

RL: In what sense colorful? 

Chao: His style of speech — full of illustrations of what he was talking 
about. And his manner too. 

RL: Did you discuss problems in linguistics with him? Was he at all 
interested at that time? 

Chao: He was somewhat but not especially. 

RL: We had hoped to interview Professor [George D.] Louderback in 
Geology. At one point he had said that he might write his own 


RL: autobiography and then unfortunately he died before either project 
was accomplished. What can you tell me about him? 

Chao: I have nothing serious to tell about him. I saw a bit of him 
when I was a visiting student and was allowed to eat at the 
Faculty Club where I met him. But years later, when I came to 
Berkeley and began to teach, at one of the faculty meetings he 
was sitting in the front row and I was in the back row. People 
around me couldn't hear and called "louder." Later, I said I 
should have said, "Louder back here; we can't hear you." [Laughter] 
But that was an afterthought. But I did note that I did succeed 
in making the pun at the moment when I was interviewed by Arthur 
Linkletter in a radio interview at the San Francisco World Fair. 
They asked me, "Dr. Chao, is there a movement to write the Chinese 
language with an alphabet?" I said, "Well, Mr. Linkletter, for 
twenty years I've been active in linking letters together, [laughter] 
to write the Chinese language." 

RL: You're famous for your puns, and I'm very glad we have a few 

Chao: Of course, being in Berkeley, we were near the sceneries in the 
West. I took in the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and various places. 
In one of my visits to Yosemite, I walked up to the glacial point 
from that very narrow and steep trail — the ledge trail-- (they call 
it the alleged trail). On top of that glacial point, there's a 
hanging rock; I climbed to the end of that rock to have my picture 
taken with my feet dangling two thousand feet above the valley. 
Since then, they've fenced it off so that people wouldn't fall off. 

For ten years—when I first came to America, I saw ads about 
Yosemite, and I'd been calling it Yose-mite for ten years before 
I came to the place and learned that it was called Yosemite. 



Students and Universities in the '20s 




Schneider : 


I'm glad that Professor Laurence Schneider has joined us for 
our interview today. 

It's a pleasure for me. 

I don't think we talked earlier about why you decided to return 
to Cornell to teach physics after one year of your Sheldon 
traveling fellowship instead of taking another year of the 
Sheldon or accepting the offers from Chinese universities 
that you received at this point. 

Of course, I was always a faithful alumnus of Cornell. My 
interests, as I was saying, shifted from one thing to another, 
and at that moment, I was probably more attracted to physics, 
in which I had taken as many courses as I did in mathematics, 
in which I was nominally a major. So I saw this as a good 
opportunity to do some more physics. Those were also the days 
of applied physics in the way of wireless telephony and so 

I take it that Cornell was an outstanding campus for physics 
of the sort you were interested in. 

Yes, yes. 

When you and other western-trained Chinese started returning 
to China in the 1920s, what was the situation of such returned 


Chao: Since there were so many calls for modern trained young men, 
it was usually very easy to get jobs. Tsing Hua being the 
place under whose auspices many of the students were sent 
out, I thought it would be nice to go back there with many 
people I knew. 

RL : I think this is more your subject, Larry. You were talking 
to me about the divisions that developed between some of the 
people who had been to different American institutions. 

Schneider: To what degree did you sense a growing division amongst the 
students overseas, let's say at Cornell or Columbia? Did 
they choose specific American institutions or professors to 
work with on the basis of preconceived notions of what they 
wanted for China, or did it perhaps work the other way? 

Chao: I don't think so; I didn't notice any choice in that respect. 
At each institution, there were different lines of thought 
about these things. It was more on the basis of the individual 
choice of professors, or sometime we saw it more in terms of 
course content when we'd look at a catalogue before we knew 
about the university. It's somewhat different from the 
situation in, say, Germany, where a student follows specifically 
some professor. 

Schneider: When you were studying in the United States during those 

Cornell years, were you aware of any divisions growing between, 
let's say, those students who eventually went on to study at 
Columbia and those who eventually went on to study at Harvard? 

Chao: Not that I noticed. Very often, it was for purely personal 
or accidental reasons that they went to one or the other. 
But the majority of them, of course, went to the institutions 
in the eastern part of this country. 

Schneider: Did you know Mei Kuang-ti during this period? 

Chao: Yes. I knew him at Harvard [1915-1918]. After I returned to 
China, in the middle '20s, I was asked to get somebody to 
continue with my courses in Chinese; I recommended Mei Kuang-ti, 
although he was anti pai-hua [vernacular] and I was for pai-hua. 
because I knew he was a thoroughly well trained scholar. I'd 
known him as a student too, yes. 

Schneider: Had he formed these opinions in his student days against the 
use of pai-hua? 


Chao: Maybe before he came to this country; he was classically 
trained. Of course, all of us were classically trained, 
of our age. I think I noted that in my diary in the early 
days at Cornell in which I wrote in classical Chinese; 
everybody wrote in classical Chinese, even sometime after 
Hu Shih's 1917 Literary Revolution. I wrote in my diary 
things like jyh shiahjenn cheu muhjinq which meant, "Went 
downtown to get eyeglasses." We wouldn't think of writing 
in the colloquial. Even in the very first article that Hu Shih 
wrote in the Hsin ch 'ing-nien [New Youth] Magazine advocating 
the use of colloquial, he wrote that article in the classical 

Schneider: When did you start using pai-hua in your diary? 

Chao: I don't think I ever did. After I wrote it in wen yen for 

a while, then I shifted over to English. I recent years — in 
the last three or four decades--! 've been writing my diary 
in English with a summary in Chinese. Of course, in the 
summary you can't tell whether it's in pai-hua or not — it's 
a very brief summary. 

Schneider: Do you think that, in regard to this important question of 

language reform, that people like Mei Kuang-ti, who continued 
to favor the use of wen yen, that their attitudes were 
reinforced by their work at Harvard with Professor [Irving] 
Babbitt. Did you know Professor Babbitt? 

Chao: Not very well, no. 

Schneider: Mei Kuang-Ti writes a great deal about his respect for Babbitt. 
I wonder if the experience of Chinese students in the United 
States was visibly altered for a person like yourself in one 
direction or another --whether reinforced or perhaps turned in 
another direction? 

Chao: I'm not sure. The one thing that was rather mutual in this 
respect was that, in English, when you write, you can't very 
well tell whether it's wen yen or pai-hua. As to the school 
of thought about literary work, literary training, there are 
sometimes people who work on a thesis on the subject of the 
classical language, but the thesis itself would be written in 
the colloquial. 

Our feeling was that all English writing, except the very 
abstruse, sounded more like pai-hua which is nearer to ordinary 


Chao: speech, at least expository English; it sounds more like 
speech than the ancient classical language. 

RL: Would you say, then, that although this was perhaps the 

crucial question, at least in your field, in the modernization 
of China, that it didn't provoke intense personal disputes 
amongst scholars of your generation, so that perhaps some of 
the factionalism about which we read has been exaggerated? 

Chao: What, for example? 

Schneider: For example, Hu Shih's debates with Mei Kuang-ti and Mei 

Kuang-ti's friends at Southeastern University [Tung-nan ta-hsueh] 
when read in retrospect, they're rather heated and give the 
impression of severe conflict; and yet, as you've suggested, 
these men, in fact, had a great deal in common. 

Chao: Yes, that's true. 

Schneider: Were you ever in the company of Hu Shih and Mei Kuang-ti in 
the United States? Did Mei Kuang-ti go to Cornell at one 

Chao: I don't think he studied there. 

Schneider: He studied at Harvard only. I was curious to know whether in 
the United States there was an opportunity for leaders of 
cultural reform—literary, language reform movements — to get 
together, to debate and speak together and discuss these kinds 
of questions before they got back to China? 

Chao: There were frequent Chinese Student Alliance meetings from 
various institutions, meeting in one institution or another. 
During those meetings, there would be discussions along 
these lines. 

Schneider: May I ask you just briefly about that, because I'm not familiar 
with that institution. 

Chao: Yes. There was a Chinese Students Alliance Eastern Division, 
including the Middle West, and Western Division. The Eastern 
and Middle West divisions were more active than the Western 
Division; they sometimes had joint annual conferences lasting 
a week or so, sometimes at Cornell or Harvard, sometimes at 
smaller colleges. They preferred the smaller places because 
they could keep people together; in a larger place, they would 
scatter and see sights. [Laughter] 


Chao: There were papers read and discussions and athletic 

meets . 

RL: In which Mr. Chao was very successful. 

Schneider: The mile walk, I remember. [Laughter] Let's see—you did it 
in ten minutes, four seconds. 

Chao: Something like that. The world's record was under nine minutes. 

Schneider: Did the student alliance have any publications? 

Chao: There was the Chinese Students Monthly, at one time edited by 

T.V. Soong. I wrote some articles on the reform of the 
Chinese language in the Chinese Students Alliance. 

Schneider: This would have been about what time? 

Chao: In the late 1910s I would say; I can't recall exactly. 

Schneider: And this was published in English, was it? 

Chao: Yes. About that time, we organized the Chinese Science 

Society--1915 it started at Cornell. After three or four 
years, the Society as well as the monthly was moved to 
Shanghai, and I remained behind as the American editor. 

Schneider: Was there some relationship between the science society and 
the student alliance? 

Chao: No; they were separate. 

Schneider: It would be very interesting to see some of the old publications, 

Chao: I still have volumes one, two, three, four of what we call 

Science, all written in Chinese, of course. Also, those 
articles were written in the classical language, not in pai-hua, 
in the early years. 

Schneider: Did you write on the subject of language in Science? 

Chao: Usually about scientific things. One of them was Chinese- 

Occidental Uranography. Hu Shih wrote one of the earliest 
articles on modern scientific punctuation in Science. It's 
one of the few things, besides my diary, that I saved after 
World War II. 










This publication, though, from your memoirs, did have some 
rather wide circulation in Shanghai, so that it might be 
accessible to us. 

Yes, I think some libraries would have that. 

To return to the situation in the twenties, when you went back 
to China, you said that people had no difficulty getting jobs 
because there were relatively few of you with western training. 
But what sort of attitudes did you run into in the established 
faculties from, say, Chinese professors who had not been abroad? 

I think most of those who taught scientific subjects were 
those who had been abroad, or at least who had been to Japan, 
because in the early years there were many more Japan-returned 
students than western-returned students. But those who taught 
the regular classical Chinese subjects may not have been abroad. 
There was no special antagonism or jealousy among the groups. 

What about the students? Did they prefer to study with people 
who had been trained abroad? 

It depended upon the subject they were taking, 
certain required subjects. 

There were 

Do you feel—whatever subject the returned student was teaching- 
that he was treated in any special way? 

Not that I noticed in that respect. 

Did you notice any major differences between people who were 
trained in Japan compared to those who trained either in 
America or in England or continental Europe? 

I think people, on the whole, thought more highly of people 
who were trained in the West than those who were trained in 
Japan. One reason is that Japan is so near and so easy, so 
accessible that more people went; on the whole, the level of 
accomplishment of those who had studied there may not come 
up to those who had to prepare long years and went far. Also, 
there was less of a language problem in going to Japan because 
the Chinese who studied in Japan practically read all Japanese 
in Chinese, the most important words were in Kanji. They not 
only read them as Chinese; they also pronounced them in Chinese 
rather than in the Japanese on reading even. I think the stock 
example I gave was a sentence, for example, in Japanese -^0 ft 
N ^. %L "t" "^ , Kyo wa yoi tenki desu. "Today is fine 






Schneider ; 
Schneider : 

weather." Because in characters, kyo is written "? ^ and 
yoi is written f^.V . Most Chinese, even those who had studied in 
Japan, would read the sentence as: Chinjih wa liang-i t ' iench ' i 
desu, [laughter]; just those articles were written in Japanese-- 
everything else was pronounced in Chinese. That's the way they 
always read their textbooks they used in Japan. 

Would you comment on the differences that developed between 
the northern and southern Chinese universities? 

I don't think there is a difference, as such, between northern 
and southern schools. There's some difference of tradition 
between the missionary schools and the government schools and 
the private schools. Yenching was a missionary school, and 
Tsing Hua was very much Americanized because of the American 
origin of the funds of the returned Boxer Indemnity, on the 
basis of which Tsing Hua was established. 

National Peking University was, of course, a regular 
government institution inherited from the previous old Peking 
University. The Nanking University — later called Central 
University—was a government university. Chung Shan University 
in Canton was named after Sun Yat-sen, Chung Shan. Soochow 
University was a missionary school. And of course, in Shanghai, 
St. John's University was a very prominent missionary university. 

I think the recruitment of teachers and of students was 
rather non-denominational, I would say. All kinds of teachers 
and students went on the whole, I think, on the basis of merit. 

You say that as such, there was no northern and southern 
division. Let me be more specific. You were offered a position, 
I believe, by President Kuo Ping -wen of Tung Nan; at that time, 1 
wonder, was there a sense of difference between Peking University 
and Tung Nan [Southeastern] University? 

Peking University I think had always had higher prestige. 

Justifiably, do you think? 

I think so; there are more scholars teaching there. 

Do you find it ironic that at Tung Nan University, we find a 
rather eloquent group of people who opposed literary and 
language reform, to one degree or another; Peking University, 


Schneider: of course, was the home of literary reform. And yet, if I'm 
not mistaken, at Tung Nan University, the sciences had their 
first major development as academic departments. 

Chao: Yes, they're very good in science. 

Schneider: Is this a contradiction at all, the fact that modern science 
is accepted on the same campus where literary reform is 

Chao: Apparently people didn't notice any such possible contradiction. 
Science, as I was saying, was written in the classical language. 

Schneider: So the language per se was not an inhibition to the acceptance 
of science. Was there any kind of resistance to putting 
modern American styles of scientific academics into the 
university system, anything similar to resistance to any other 
kinds of cultural reform? 

Chao: As far as I remember, there's never been any opposition to 
the introduction of science in any institution, even though 
culturally some of the institutions were rather more old 
fashioned than others. 

Schneider: To come back to this question of Peking University as opposed 
to Tung Nan University, did you have any perceptions at all 
that a student of certain kinds of political interest or 
certain kinds of social reform interest might choose one as 
opposed to the other, or really had it been leveled out by the 
time you returned between Peking and Nanking? 

Chao: I was certainly not observant myself about these things when 
I was there. As to the use of language in studying and 
teaching, even in the Peking University, people still used 
much of the classical language. 

Schneider: They did? So they didn't practice all that they preached.' 

Chao: No. As I said, Hu Shih advocated the revolution in the language 
by writing in the old style; that first started in 1917. 

RLs Perhaps it was hard to make the switch for many people. 

Chao: Yes. Except for reading novels like Dream of the Red Chamber. 
people weren't in the habit of writing as one would speak. 


Schneider: This would have persisted into the twenties? 






Schneider : 


Yes. Very much so. Of course, nowadays, even today, when I 
returned in 1973, I noticed that when they make up new terms, 
they're still thinking mostly in terms of the classical 
Chinese; some of them were made up which didn't necessarily 
sound—didn't have as much carrying power as if they had used 
more colloquial morphemes. Every Chinese syllable is more or 
less a morpheme; if you have two of them together, the parts 
themselves are not free words, and they often have a lot of 
sibilant sounds. Those who made them up were thinking in terms 
of the classical language rather than thinking of the way they 
are used in everyday speech. 

That's an interesting comment on cultural and linguistic 
persistence. Think how long it is now since the first 
language revolution. 

Yes--1917 to 1973. 

Did you perceive any political influence on either students' 
or professors' choice of science or the humanities—classics? 
After all, this was a major debate in the nineteenth and 
twentieth centuries. How much actual effect was it having on 
professional choices in the twenties in China? 

I don't think there was much effect, or maybe I wasn't observant 
enough to notice if there was any effect on the matter of 
choice. Of course, in the natural sciences there were more 
openings for jobs. 

Did you find that to be involved in the sciences as they were 
developing at that time in China didn't necessarily exclude 
one from interest in what is broadly called cultural matters? 
I raise the question because apparently in your own work you 
were involved in formal sciences as well as in language concerns, 
which was the heart of the so-called cultural movement. Were 
you unique in that kind of interest? 

I think I was rather, myself, undecided what exactly I wanted 
to do most. Even if 1 did go into studies of the humanities, 
my approach was probably more that of science than that of 
culture. I was interested in recording dialects as they were 
spoken. I did join some movements in reform of the language — 
that is, in unifying the language, promoting Mandarin. But 


Chao: at the time I was doing that, I was more interested in 

finding out how things were than advocating how things should 
be. That's why in later years, I spent so many years going 

to various places recording dialects as they were actually 

RL: When you were younger, you describe yourself as a revolutionary, 
and you said everybody was revolutionary. 

Chao: Yes. It was rather anti-Manchu, anti-dynasty in that sense. 

RL: At this point, would you describe yourself as interested in 
reform, but not a revolutionary? 

Chao: Yes. I was in sympathy with all kinds of reforms, and we 

were revolutionary in the sense that we were opposed to the 
Manchu Dynasty. 

Schneider: But once the revolution—understood as eliminating the Manchus — 
once that was over, what did you feel? A feeling of great 
accomplishment? Emptiness? New goals? 

Chao: It was felt to be a success. I was in America at the time 

when it happened. One fellow student at Cornell said, "Good 
newsj Good newsl" That was the 1911 revolution, and we all 
thought that was what we had hoped had happened. 

Schneider: Later, when you were making decisions about which course of 
academics to follow—and of course you talked about these 
things with fellow-students--! wonder to what degree questions 
of national obligation entered into your decision making. 

Chao: I think very little. We thought that with so many of us, 
probably our different interests would cover most of the 
needs. [Laughter] As for myself, I was just self-centered; 
I just followed the interests I had. 

Schneider: What about your interest in language? 

Chao: That started very early because of the early language experience 
I had. My people came from what we call the South, which 
means the Kiangsu, Chekiang region—the Wu dialect region. 
My grandfather spoke Mandarin very poorly, and so did my 
father. I think my mother was the only one who spoke a fairly 
good Mandarin. At home, we children always spoke Mandarin. 


Chao: Then, as soon as we started to learn to read and write, 

we were taught the Changchow pronunciation in the Wu dialect, 
so that at one time I could only speak in the northern dialect 
and read in the southern. Moving about, even within what's 
now called Hopeh province, we were exposed to various kinds 
of accents. When we went back to Changchow later, we were 
exposed to even more varieties of dialect. That's how I got 
interested in all these different matters of pronunciation 
and matters of vocabulary among different dialects. 

With Bertrand Russell and Dora Black. 1920-1921 






Would you tell us about your year as interpreter for Bertrand 
Russell? Although Mr. Chao is mentioned in Russell's 
autobiography,* I think there is much more about it that 
readers would like to know. Larry, did you know that Mr. Chao 
actually lived in the same house that year with Bertrand Russell? 

No, I didn't. 

Last year I found the same house and took a picture of it. 
The inscription on the front gate is still the same. 

You mentioned earlier, I believe, that Liang Ch'i-ch'ao was 
the man chiefly responsible for the invitation to Russell to 
lecture in China. Perhaps you could tell us about how Russell's 
visit was arranged. 

We formed a sort of lecture society under whose auspices we 
invited Bertrand Russell. He came together with Dora Blick 
and stayed in that house I was mentioning in Peking. Liang 
Ch'i-ch'ao was a leader of the so-called Progressive Party, 
and so people warned me not to be too much influenced by them 
for political purposes. All I did was visit to try to interpret 

What were your friends afraid of? 

They just wanted to promote the prestige of the party because 
they invited some prominent intellectual from abroad. 

*Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 3 vols., 
Allen and Unwin, London, 1967. 


Schneider: What did the Progressive Party signify to your friends that 
apparently they did not agree with? 

Chao: I think it was --the Progressive Party was at that time still 
not for the Kuomintang. Those friends who were not in favor 
of that were afraid that they would have too much influence 
over the Kuomintang, which was in the early days of its 
development in the country. 

RL: Did you yourself have a party affiliation at this time? 

Chao: No, I didn't belong to any party; I've never belonged to 

any party. I'm not a member of Kuomintang or of Kungch 'antang 
or any tang. I considered myself a modernist. 

RL: Can you tell us about how you first met Bertrand Russell and 
Dora Black and your impressions of them? 

Chao: I was impressed by the fact that they were much more approachable 
than I expected from what I had read about them or from looking 
at their pictures. Bertrand Russell looked younger than I 
thought he'd be; he was forty-nine when he came to China. 

RL: Had you been nervous about the assignment, then? 

Chao: Not especially. I had been reading him, of course, a lot, 

his Principles of Mathematics, and tried to read his Principia 
Mathematica, which wasn't meant to be read [laughter], his 
opus magnum. 

RL: Had you done previous translation on a sustained basis? 

Chao: Off and on; not very often. This was the first time I did any 
oral translation in a regular program. 

RL: How did you do it? How long did Russell speak? 

Chao: Usually a paragraph at a time. 

RL: Did you practice this before the lecture tour started? 

Chao: No. In some of the lectures, he showed me his outline; in 
most cases, it was just at the moment. 

Schneider: So he did extemporize? 


Chao: Yes, he extemporized all the time; he didn't read from notes. 

He had notes, but it wasn't in the form of connected sentences. 

RL: What were the major subjects that he covered on this Chinese 


Chao: Problems of philosophy and then a few lectures on social 

problems. Then we formed a Russell Society discussing his 
philosophy; he came to that sometimes for informal talks. 

Schneider: Was the society formed before he came? 

Chao: After he came. 

RL: Who were some of the other members of this society? 

Chao: There were Fu T'ung, one of the sponsors for his coming; Ch'ii 

Shih-ying, he was editor of a daily in Peking; and then, of 
course, members of the lecture society—Chiang Po-li. 

RL: Both you and Bertrand Russell like to make puns. Did you 

feel an immediate affinity with him? [Laughter] 

Chao: From reading him I already knew this. One of the puns he made 

he attributed to me. Actually, one of his few lectures on 
social problems was "Causes of the Present Chaos in China." 
After he went back to England and we were married, we wrote 
to him about the birth of a child, he says, "Congratulations' 
Now you are among the causes of the present Chaos in China." 
[Laughter] That was his pun, but he attributed it to me in 
his autobiography, saying that I like to make puns (which I 
do admit), but when he cited an example, he cited his own. 

Schneider: Had you developed some affinity for Russell's ideas about which 
way modern civilization should go, and particularly what 
direction China should take? Even before he arrived, were 
you aware of the kinds of things he might be saying to the 
Chinese, the kinds of advice he might be giving? 

Chao: He talked so little about things political; I can't even 

remember. On the whole, he was all for liberalism, including 
freedom of speech, which wasn't very free in China at that 
time. Because Chiang Monlin and Hu Shih and so forth were 
influential people, though somewhat radical-minded from the 
point of view of the authorities, they didn't quite touch them. 




Schneider : 






Doing things out of the way, such as running a birth control 
clinic by my wife, which was against the law, was also just 
blinked at. 

What kinds of things did Russell talk about? 

In his general speeches, he told us about how things were in 
England, and he wasn't approving everything. that was going 
on in England; on the whole, he was for greater liberalism 
and freedom. 

Did he have any specific advice to give to the Chinese about 
what they should do? 

Not that I remember. 

How was he received? Did he have large audiences? 

Yes. Sometimes there were over-flowing audiences, and since' 
there was no adequate acoustic equipment in those days, some 
had to be turned away. At some of the public lectures, there 
were fifteen hundred to two thousand --more than the hall could 
hold. Radical -minded as he was, he was rather conservative 
about everyday habits, such as taking off your overcoat when 
you lecture in a hall. Once, traveling to Paoting, a short 
distance (about a hundred miles south of Peking), he lectured 
in an unheated hall with no overcoat on; that was how he 
contracted that dangerous pneumonia when he came back to Peking. 
He almost died from that. 

Because he hadn't been married yet to Dora Black, we 
thought it wise to ask him to write his will to transfer the 
rights to her; he was barely able to sign. He recovered, but 
the London newspaper was misinformed and reported his death. 
When hearing about this, he said, "Tell them that the report 
of my death was very much exaggerated." [Laughter] 

Did you have any technical problems in translating his 
philosophical lectures in a way that would be understood by 
the sorts of audiences you had, which I assume were mixed? 

Yes. I did have to consult him, consult others about the 
translation of certain terms. Also, I've been criticized for 
not using the traditional terms for some of the things. In 
those days, some of those were really still in a fluid state 
and there was no established usage for certain things. 


RL: Did you ever have the opportunity to use blackboards so that 
you could use characters? 

Chao: Yes. Sometimes we used a blackboard. 
RL: Was this a helpful thing? 
Chao: Yes. 

RL: My mind boggles at the problem of--well, translating Russell 

from the printed page into my own head is enough of a problem, 
but to translate without having seen the text of his talk in 
the fluid stage of the Chinese language at that point seems 
to me a tremendous task. 

Chao: They started a Russell Monthly in Chinese for a while. 

Schneider: What was there abput his thought, or what aspect of his thought 
was so appealing do you think? What made him so popular so 

Chao: I think one thing was that he was rather new, different from 
the lines of other lecturers who had been there. John Dewey 
was there about the same time, and usually it was Hu Shih who 
translated John Dewey. 

On one occasion, Hu Shih was occupied with something 
else, and I had to translate Dewey. He would say, "We should 
have talks and conferences and consultations," and I would 
have to find three near synonyms in Chinese [laughter] to 
translate his rather diffuse style. 

Schneider: Did he insist on this? 

Chao: No, he didn't insist but I tried to approximate him. [Laughter] 

Schneider: I take it his style was a little more difficult to deal with 

than Russell's. I've heard that at Columbia in English, he was 
difficult to follow. What about the reception of Dewey compared 
with Russell? Were there different reactions to them, did you 

Chao: I think there was a more popular appeal in Dewey "s talks than 
in Russell's, whereas Russell appealed to special kinds of 
audiences, although many branches, too. 


Schneider: How would you characterize the more specialized Russell 

Chao: Those with interest in science, mathematics, and philosophy, 
and also those interested in his revolutionary social ideas. 

Schneider: Of those revolutionary social ideas, which do you recall 
as being more interesting to those Chinese audiences, and 
yourself as well? 

Chao: I suppose it was his advocacy of some sort of socialism. 

Soon after he left China, however, and visited Russia, he was 
disappointed with the system there. 

Schneider: Were his Chinese admirers aware of his disappointment afterwards? 

Chao: Yes. 

Schneider: Did that affect their own feelings about Russell? 

Chao: Apparently not, no. 

Schneider: Do you think that his disenchantment with socialism may have 
affected some numbers of Chinese in their attitudes toward 
evaluating socialism? 

Chao: Probably. That was so long ago, and people don't read him so 
much nowadays. Probably not very much. 

Schneider: I meant, of course, back then, in the twenties, when Chinese 
intellectuals were making their own decisions. Were you 
yourself aware of his disenchantment when it occurred? 

Chao: Yes. 

Schneider: How was it conveyed to you? I really don't recall where he 
first published his attitudes about these things. Was there 
an opportunity to keep up with his published thought? 

Chao: More or less. 

RL: Were you aware of Chinese communists attending these lectures, 

or were they so much hidden that you didn't know about them? 

Chao: I don't recall specific names. One incident I recall about 

his lecture in Changsha and Hunan, after his arrival. I had 


Chao: learned some smattering of Hunanese on the boat trip from 

Shanghai to Changsha with him. After the lecture, a student 
came up and asked me, "Dr. Chao, what county of Hunan do you 
come from?" not realizing that I was a speaker of Mandarin 
speaking Hunanese badly; he thought I was a Hunanese speaking 
Mandarin badly. [Laughter] Somebody speculated at that time 
that the student who asked me that might have been Mao Tse-tung. 

RL : Perhaps at this point I could ask you if any of your friends 
or acquaintances were communists? 

Chao: I can't think of any names specifically. 

RL : You described the sorts of people whom you thought were 

attracted to Russell's lectures. How would you describe the 
sorts of people who were attracted to Dewey's lectures? 

Chao: I suppose everybody was. He had a much broader appeal. 

Schneider: Did you yourself have some feelings about Dewey or Russell in 
preference of one to the other? 

Chao: Russell's subjects were more interesting to me. 

Schneider: What about the relative merits of their social commentaries? 
Did you find one or the other more appealing or distasteful? 

Chao: It didn't seem to make very much difference to me. I was 
rather a back number about social problems. 

Schneider: Did Russell discuss his views on things, such as marriage, 
the family, by way of either example or advice to modern 

Chao: I think he did. I've forgotten most of what he did advocate. 
Of course, he was all in favor of the then developing system 
of what we call free marriage—marriage by free choice instead 
of marriage arranged by families (which was disappearing in 
those days) . 

In Dora Black's lectures, she mentioned the problems in 
marriage. At one of her lectures she mentioned "those young 
men and women who are not married." Since "to marry" in 
Chinese takes a different word whether it's a man or a woman, 


Chao: I had to translate by different verbs. But I twisted them 
around using the wrong verb and came out with something 
which would sound like, "those young men who have no husbands 
and those young women with no wives," and the audience, of 
course, roared with laughter. When Miss Black asked me what 
they were laughing about, I told her, [whispered] "It'll take 
too long to explain; I'll have to explain to you afterwards." 
[Laughter] Ch'li is the verb literally "to take," to marry 
by a man, and ch la . literally "to go to home," is a verb to 
marry on the part of a woman. 

RL: I didn't realize that you translated for Dora Black as well. 
Chao: Yes, I did. 

RL: Apart from free love, or free marriage—perhaps both—what 

other subjects did she talk about, and to whom did she appeal? 

Chao: She had a good audience usually. She talked about social 

Schneider: Were there men as well as women in the audience of Dora Black? 
Chao: Yes. 

Schneider: Did she have the same itinerary as Bertrand Russell, which 

is to say did she speak on most of the occasions at the same 
places he spoke? 

Chao: No, they had different programs. 

Schneider: Is there some record of her speeches to your knowledge. 

Chao: There must be; I don't know where to look. 

Schneider: What was the practice? You yourself would translate freely, 
right on the spot, but was someone assigned to take notes? 

Chao: Yes, someone would take notes and I would edit them. 

RL: Then were they published in a newspaper? 

Chao: Yes, sometimes a newspaper. There was a Russell Monthly. 

Schneider: So you think that her speeches might be in that Russell Monthly? 


Chao: Yes. 

RL: By example, Bertrand Russell and Dora Black were setting a 
social pattern which, of course, was uncommon (to put it 
mildly) in England, let alone in China. It wasn't customary 
at that time for an unmarried couple to travel around, and I 
gather that Miss Black's pregnancy became quite perceptible 
when she was in China. You could see that she was pregnant, 
couldn't you? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: What sort of problems arose from this with either Chinese or 
European society? 

Chao: Apparently, in those days things were changing so fast and 

even marriage by free choice was so radical, that they didn't 
notice such a great difference between them and our way- 
marriage by free choice. So, people didn't talk very much 
about it. 

Schneider: Was there any attempt on the part of government or any 

organization to prevent Russell and Dora Black from speaking? 

Chao: No, not that I know of. 

Schneider: Do you recall any negative reactions on the part of newspapers 
or social commentators? 

Chao: Not that I can recall. 

RL: Did they have much contact with the foreign community of Peking? 

Chao: They had some contacts with English people and Americans. 

There was E.S. Bennett of the British legation who used to go 
to Russell's lectures. Of course, when he was sick, he was in a 
German hospital and they were all talking German. 

RL: You lived in the same house with them. Who were their guests 
or visitors? 

Chao: Mostly the sponsors of the lectures, like Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, 
Fu T'ung and Ch'li Shih-ying. 

RL: So that they would be predominantly members of the Chinese 


Chao: Yes. There were a couple of foreign visitors; I don't 
remember their names. 

Schneider: Was it necessary for you to interpret for people like Liang 

Chao: Yes, I had to interpret the conversation. 

Schneider: What kinds of things would a man like Liang Ch'i-ch'ao have 
been interested in discussing with Russell? 

Chao: He would talk mostly about things social and political. 
Schneider: They seemed to agree, did they? 

Chao: I didn't seem to notice any great differences, or maybe Liang 
was diplomatic enough not to show this. 

RL: How well informed was Bertrand Russell about China before he 
came on this trip? 

Chao: He knew fairly well how things were going in China. 

RL: What sorts of things do you think he learned from his year 
there, and did his opinions shift as a result of this 

Chao: On the whole, he had a better opinion of the Chinese after he 
had met the people at close range. He felt the Chinese were 
better informed than he thought they might be and not so 
conservative as he was afraid they might be. 

Academia Sinica and Harvard Yenching 

RL: What differences did you notice between the scholars at 
Academia Sinica and Harvard Yenching in China? 

Chao: I think they were people with more Chinese background than 
those from Harvard Yenching. 

Schneider: Academia Sinica? 


Yes, that 's right. 


Schneider: By Chinese background, do you mean classical training? 

Chao: Not necessarily classical training but those who had been in 
China longer. 

RL: So it was a chronological as well as an interest difference; 
the older people went somewhat to Academia Sinica? 

Chao: Yes. It was an institution for research only; there were no 
courses taught, no classes. 

Schneider: Was this true of both the institutes at that time --Academia 
Sinica as well as Harvard Yenching? 

Chao: Harvard Yenching had courses. They were Harvard courses, but 
both the director and the nominal head were professors at 
Harvard, so Harvard Yenching Institute in China was practically 
a sideline activity of the department [in Cambridge], although 
it was separately supported and given a separate name. 

RL: Were these graduate or undergraduate courses at Harvard 

Chao: Both. 

Schneider: Was there any kind of friendly rivalry between the research 
branches of Academia Sinica and Harvard Yenching? 

Chao: What kind of friendly rivalry? 

Schneider: In the sense of schools of scholarship espousing one approach 
to teaching or to literary forms as opposed to another. Or, 
in the realm of historical research-- 

Chao: . Of course, in the case of Mei Kuang-ti, he was classically- 
oriented . 

Schneider: When you joined Academia Sinica, where was he? 
Chao: He was at Harvard. 

Schneider: Let me give you a specific instance to show you the kind of 

thing I mean. Ku Chieh-kang, whom you may know, an historian 
of some note in the late twenties and thirties-- 


Chao: He was at Amoy. 

Schneider: He was at Amoy, too, yes. Apparently he chose to do his 
historical research at Harvard Yenching as opposed to 
Academia Sinica. Apparently Fu Ssu-nien invited him to join 
Academia Sinica. I've always wondered why he would have 
chosen one as opposed to the other, and what resulted from 
his having stayed with Harvard Yenching, whether Harvard 
Yenching developed a kind of style—you know, universities 
have styles about them. Do you have some feelings about why 
a scholar of his prominence might have made that choice? 

Chao: I would think that was accidental, maybe because of his 

wanderlust—he wanted to be abroad for a while. 

Schneider: Of course, Harvard Yenching did operate in the Peking area as 
well as overseas, so that if one chose to work in the Peking 
branch of Harvard Yenching as opposed to Academia Sinica-- 
where was Academia Sinica located? 

Chao: For a while, the Institute of History and Philology was in 

Peking and the sciences were in Shanghai. Then, in the early 
thirties, everything was moved to Nanking. Not everything-- 
history and philology were moved to Nanking and I think 
meteorology also, and the science institutes were still in 

I was both in the Peking time and in the Nanking time, 
in the late twenties and Shanghai in the early thirties. In 
the late twenties, I was teaching at Tsing Hua and then I 
shifted to Academia Sinica and taught a couple of hours 
commuting to Tsing Hua every week. 

Schneider: That wasn't unusual, I take it; many scholars divided themselves 

Chao: Yes, there were some others, but it was not very common. By 

that time there were buses between Tsing Hua and Peking, which 
made things more convenient. 


Tsing Hua 






Perhaps we could at this point discuss Tsing Hua chronologically. 
You mentioned the transportation. I think when you first went 
there in 1920 it was very hard to get to Peking. How far was 
it actually? 

I don't remember in terms of miles, but it was two hours by 
rickshaw. By bus it was twenty minutes from Tsing Hua to 
the YMCA on Morrison Street (Wang-fu Ching Ta Chieh) in 
northeastern Peking. 

You told us that you chose to teach at Tsing Hua primarily 
because it was the place which organized the Boxer Indemnity 
students. The funding, then, was basically American, in the 
sense of the returned indemnity? 

Yes, that's right. 

I've had an advantage over Larry in reading your autobiography. 
I note that you had an extraordinary roster of distinguished 
colleagues when you first went to Tsing Hua in 1920--Liang 
Ch'i-ch'ao, Wang Kuo-wei, and Yin-k'o ch'en [Yinko Tschen] . 
Can you talk about those people as people? 

That was in 1925, not the first time I taught at Tsing Hua 
in 1920. 

Liang Ch'i-ch'ao we met rather late, although we had 
studied his Hsin-Min Ts'ung-Pao one of the earliest periodicals 
he started in the 1900s; we heard much about him. He was a 
monarchist; he was originally in favor of continuing the 

He was an excellent lecturer, although he spoke with a 
heavy Cantonese accent. He was also among those interested 
in inviting Bertrand Russell to lecture in China. He was one 
of the research professors who gave lectures to advanced 

Ch'en Yin-k'o we met first when he was a student in Germany 
in the early 1920s. Later, he was invited to go to Tsing Hua 
as one of the four research professors. He wasn't married then; 
in fact, we stayed next door to his house in Tsing Hua, one of 
the faculty residences. I had too many things, and he wasn't 
married; so we shared the two houses and he let us use some of 
his rooms next door. He said he wasn't interested in going to 


Chao: America when he was asked to. He said the only attraction to 
going to America was to eat lobster at Joy Hong Low on Tyler 
Street in Boston. [Laugftter] He studied at Harvard briefly. 

Wang Kuo-wei, of course, was a great classical scholar 
who was more or less loyal--at least sympathetic --with the 
dynasty. When the revolutionary army came, he jumped into 
the lake and killed himself. 

Schneider: Did you know him at all well before he committed suicide? 
Chao: No. Well, I knew him as a colleague but not before. 
Schneider: I wonder what kind of teacher he was. 

Chao: He was a quiet person. He spoke lectures rather systematically, 
not colorfully. A very quiet person. His writing was also 
very meticulous. A first-rate scholar. 

Schneider: What kind of an atmosphere was there in the school at that 
time? Do you feel one could look at the way people dressed 
and the way they met with one another and tell that this was 
a place where modern scholars were meeting, or was it still 
the old, traditional academy? 

Chao: There were a few traditional-minded old timers there, but on 
the whole, it was more or less a modern styled institution. 
Of course, that Tsing Hua Research Institute was a small part 
of the whole institution. On the whole, in 1925, it was 
changed from a preparatory college for going to America into 
a regular university, just like any other university. 

Students who graduated there didn't necessarily go abroad; 
they studied in various branches. There was the college of 
engineering, of course, but arts and sciences was the main part 
of the university. 

RL: About how large was the student body at this point? 

Chao: I can't tell you now. I would say under a thousand; not as 
large as Peking University. 

RL: And were the students fee-paying largely or supported by 

Chao: Some were supported by scholarships; some paid rather a nominal 
sum (I don't remember the amount). 











Schneider ; 


Where did the students of Tsing Hua come from? Were they 
local, largely from the Peking area? 

No. They were from all parts of the country. 

Did they know a foreign language before they came there? 

They usually had studied English for two or three years in 
high school. 

Was it a requirement for them? 

Yes, I think it was required for the entrance examination. 

Was all the teaching in Chinese? 

Except, of course, in English, because they had English- 
speaking teachers as well as Chinese. 

Were the students when they entered competent to work in 
English? Did they understand the lectures and reading 

Yes. Of course it was an effort. 

For the faculty, was their pay adequate or did they have to 
moonlight or take other jobs? 

Most of them didn't, as I recall; apparently the pay was 
enough. For the research professors, the pay was rather 
higher than the average; I don't remember what the amount was. 

Was it paid regularly or did you have trouble? 

No, we didn't have trouble, as Peking University had for some 

Their problem was what—the government? 

Government, yes; a lot of things were in arrears. You can 
see all the changes in government from the old War Lords time 
through the nationalist revolution in the late twenties, a 
change of administration. 

How was the faculty set up? Was it run like an American 
university on the department system or more like a continental 











university with one person—the Professor—having a lot of 

It's more in the American fashion, excepting the research 
institute; then sometimes the research student was assigned 
specifically to one specific research professor. In the 

university at large, any student could take any professor's 

Administrators always have problems, I suppose, particularly 
in times of unrest. Can you talk at all of the problems of 
administration at Tsing Hua at this period? 

There was a question of — there was a special government 
committee which met at the president's office on various 
problems, but on the whole, the president was supposed to 
have the final say about decisions; it was really a sort of 
advisory committee. 

Was this like our academic senate? 

Probably— a small body of less than ten people. 

It was primarily advisory? 

Yes, although it most cases, the president would follow what 
was recommended by the group. 

Did classes follow the American pattern? 

I think we more or less followed the American traditional plan 
of instruction periods and examinations. There would be what 
we called small examinations between terms and final examinations 
of each term; it was on the semester plan. 

I think perhaps under that general heading comes a question 
of autonomy. Was there ever a problem between the university 
and yourself in terms of curriculum? 

Not that I can think of. Between terms of presidents, there 
was once a resistance to an appointee. He was brought into 
the university with military protection to take office. Shortly 
after that, we had a delegation to Nanking to the government 
objecting to him, and so he was withdrawn. 


Schneider: This was an academic or administrative appointment? 

Chao: The president of the university, Mr. Wu [Nan-shuen] . Not 

knowing that I was active in going to the Nanking government 
for redress, he'd always been sending me Christmas cards. 

RL: What was the faculty's and your objection to him? 

Chao: Simply because they didn't consult the faculty at all in the 
choice of him, and his background was somewhat indifferent. 

Schneider: When was this, approximately? 

Chao: It was in the late 1920s, after the nationalists came to 

Schneider: We're talking still about Tsing Hua. I was under the impression 
that it was a relatively independent institution. What was 
the connection between the Nanking government and the university? 

Chao: It was just a government university. 

Schneider: Did it have the prefix "Kuo-li" in front of it? National? 

Chao: I'm not sure, officially. 

Schneider: I've never heard it referred to; that's why I ask. I didn't 
realize that it was subject to the decisions of the Ministry 
of Education. You're suggesting, then, that when a new 
president was needed, the-- 

Chao: My impression is that the title does include "Kuo-li." 

Schneider: The Ministry of Education, I take it, chose the president 

Chao: Yes. 

Schneider: And they did relent. Who was the president who was ultimately 

Chao: Let me see, who was after him? There were so many. 
Schneider: Big turn-over, like American universities in the sixties! 


Schneider: The Nanking government consulted you from that point on, did 
they, in these kinds of decisions, or did you have more 
problems with them later? 

Chao: We did meet at the time with some of the people; I forgot what 
it was about. 

The March 18 Incident. Peking. 1926 

RL: . What was your attitude during the student riots of 1926? 

Chao: At least some of the riots were against the War Lords, so we 
were more or less in sympathy with them. On the whole, I 
think most of the faculty was in sympathy with the students. 

RL: Were any of them disciplined by the university for their part 
in the disturbances? 

Chao: Not that I remember. 

Schneider: We don't really have a great deal written about this March 18th 
incident. I do remember reading some essays by Chou Tso-jen 
and Lu Hsun. They seem to imply that these demonstrations 
and then the government suppression of them had some serious 
effects on the Peking academic community. Did you sense that 
there were some serious after-effects? 

Chao: There were immediate effects on individuals, but apart from 
that, I think it was just a growing revolt against the 
authorities. At that time, I think it was Tuan Ch'i-jui who was 
premier, one of the reactionaries. 

Schneider: So that one couldn't talk about "before" and "after"--as one 
does in Berkeley — let 's say before 1964 and after 1964, that 
sort of thing. 

Chao: The police did investigate our language reform committee, 
the so-called Society of a Few Men.* They were suspicious 

*See below, p. 77ff. 


Chao: about what we were up to. But we assured them that we were 
members of the minister of education's Committee on 
Unification of the Language; so they were satisfied. 

Schneider: What led them to an awareness of your group in the first place? 

Chao: It was this way. After the incident, some students were 

injured, as well as the teachers. My wife had a birth control 
clinic in Peking in the same house. There were three compounds- 
three courtyards; one was her clinic, another was her brother's 
family, and another was the meeting place of the Society of a 
Few Men. [Laughter] 

When some of the injured people were brought to her 
hospital, the police also came to ask, "What were you up to?" 
We showed them we were members of the minister of education's 
Committee for the Unification of the National Language. 

KL : I get the impression from your autobiography (which, of course, 
was written almost fifty years after the incident) of an 
attitude that's quite unf lurried or terrified. I would like 
to know how effective the police were at this time. You sound 
quite unflurried about it now. Were you frightened at the time? 
Did you have cause to be frightened? 

Chao: I can't say I remember anything about being frightened in 

those days. We were regularly living in Tsing Hua. We came 
into the city, and on one occasion the Hsi-Chi Gate, Northwestern 
Gate—was closed; sometimes we had difficulty coming in and out. 

On the whole, even in the--I think only on one occasion 
we had difficulty because that was before that bus line was 
established; we had to take rickshaws coming in and out of the 

Schneider: I take it then that you didn't witness any of the actual 
scuffling or fighting going on? 

Chao: No, I didn't actually witness it. 



Unification of the National Language 





Perhaps Larry would like to ask you some questions about 
language reform in China in the "20s. 

I suppose the best place to start is with your own personal 
goals for language reform. 

I wasn't so much interested in the reform from writing in 
the classical changing to writing in the colloquial. I just 
followed the fashion and started writing more and more in the 
colloquial. As for the unification of the language, I was 
fairly active. I think it was 1912 or later--! don't remember 
the exact date—when a system of so-called kuo-yin national 
pronunciation was decided on, including entering tones and 
the difference between "o" and "e" (in different dialects, "o" 
and "e" were varieties of the same phoneme, but in this national 
pronunciation --kuo-yin- -they were distinguished). One of the 
most important distinctions is between sharp and rounded — that 
is, between tsi, tsi , si and chi, ch ' i, hsi , a distinction 
which has always been kept by singers of Peking opera. But in 
the natural speech of Peking, that is not distinguished. 

I mentioned the addition of the entering tone (in addition 
to the first, second, third and fourth tones) with glottal stop 
endings. Those were the main features of this artificial kuo-yin, 
and I made a special set of records for it and a textbook to go 
with it. 

Was that the first set in 1923? 






Yes, they were made in--I went to America in '21 and I made 
the record in New York with Columbia Phonograph Company. 

I've heard it said that you were the only person who could 
speak that language in the whole world. [Laughter] What were, 
to your mind, the primary objections to the artificial language? 

For one thing, it was hard to find teachers who could speak 
it naturally. For example, when I made the records, I was 
the only person who could talk in that pronunciation, whereas, 
after the change, you had about one million speakers who 
would be possible teachers. 

It seems hard from this perspective to see why sixty years 
ago an artificial speech was made when there was such a 
large pool of native speakers. How do you account for the 
adoption of the artificial system, which seems to go against 
common sense? 


Some features of it were already known even by natives of 
Peking, such as the distinction between the dental sibilants 
"ts," "ts 1 " and "s" as against a "ch," "ch ' " and "hs" before 
so-called high front vowels (as "i" and "ii") . Singers of 
Peking opera—even natives of Peking—would have to learn 
that distinction. That was one of the features adopted. This 
difference is natural in some other dialects, but not in the 
city of Peking. Even Mei Lan-fan, the famous opera singer 
and female impersonator, couldn't make that distinction 
naturally. His mentor or teacher in pronunciation had to show 

His teacher, Ch ' i Ju-shan, was from Paoting. In the 
city of Paoting, half the city could make the distinction and 
half couldn't; he was from the half of the city that could 
made that distinction. 

When I went back to China, in 1925, I made broadcasts 
to teach standard Mandarin to be received in various provinces. 
I think many of my associates were more or less concerned with 
the promotion of Mandarin- -what used to be called the national 
language; we now call it p 'u-t 'ung hua, the general language. 

Also in 1925 I joined the Committee on Unification of the 
National Language where there were quite a few who were active 
in promoting the unification and standardizing the pronunciation. 



Schneider ; 




Among members of that committee, a few of them formed 
a little group called Society of a Few Men 
Shu-jen Hui based on the preface of Lu Fa-yen's book, 601 
A.D. Ch ' ieh Ylin the primary source for ancient Chinese of 
601 A.D., because in the preface they said, "We few men 
decide and it is decided," so we called ourselves the Society 
of a Few Men; some of them would rather have called it 
Society of a Handful of Men. 

Several things were done by this group. For example, 
the national organization was planned by them. Some of the 
members were Liu Fu and Lin Yutang, Ch ' ien Hsuan-t'ung — 
that was Ch'ien San-ch'iang, the atomic physicist's father, 
and Wang Yi. 

We decided — that is, the National Committee on the 
Unification of the Language—decided that we'd better take 
the natural speech of Peking city. Peiping it was called 
then. And so, we just found out how people actually spoke. 

It's still the standard now—the so-called general speech- 
p'u-t 'ung hua. Peking is now the standard dialect. 

The first attempt, then, was to teach as the natural language 
a somewhat artificial construction. 

Yes, like the idea of the German Buhnenaussprach , where the 
wagen must have a real "g" but not like a fricative; then 
you have to trill (Buhnenaus sprach) and use a lingual "r" 
and so forth. It's the kind of German which isn't spoken 
anywhere in Germany. 

What was the committee's rationalization for choosing an 
artificial language instead of one of the dialects already 

We saw that some distinctions were useful. That sharp and 
rounded distinction— the singers of the Peking opera always 
had to re-learn the language. As a matter of fact, in the 
city of Paoting, the northern part being nearer Peking, 
didn't make the distinction; the southern part of the city 
did. I don't know how the situation is now. This distinction 
all over the country appears in patches, except in the extreme 
south; then there is actually an original ki, k'l, h_i for 
chi. ch 'i, hsi and thus easy to distinguish from tsi , ts ' i, si. 


Chao: In the so-called Mandarin-speaking region — northern 

Yangtze river and so forth — it appears in patches. In 
Nanking there is a distinction; in Yangchow there isn't. 

Schneider: The committee's premise then was that establishing these 
distinctions properly would simply be a better form of 
communication, as long as you were going to establish a 
national language. 

Chao: Yes. Speakers of other dialects would have to learn a new 
dialect anyway. 

Schneider: So they may as well learn something that's more efficient. 
RL : Was it more efficient and, if so, along what lines? 

Chao: More distinctions could be made, and it was closer to some 

of the dialects, although not close to that of Peking itself. 

Schneider: Was there ever the feeling that it would be better to have 
an artificial dialect rather than having to choose one of 
the living dialects and hence, perhaps, offend someone? 

Chao: I think that was one of the motives too, so that people 

wouldn't feel that they were just learning the local dialect 
of one place, even though it was the capital. 

Schneider: But this was abandoned? 

Chao: Yes, after about ten years' time. 

Schneider: And you felt that it was abandoned primarily for which reasons? 

Chao: For one thing, they weren't very successful with only one set 

of records. As a matter of fact, the first set of records made 
intended to promote that artificial system was made by a native 
of Peking who couldn't really pronounce it, and he made a mess 
of it [laughter]; he just used some of the reading pronunciation 
and couldn't get it right at all. My set of records was really 
the second set of records for this artificial standard. 

RL: We're speaking of the ones you made at Columbia in 1923? 

Chao: Yes. But then, later, I made another set of records using the 
Peking pronunciation. 













Would those be the 1923 or 1925 ones that the commercial 
press put out? 

I don't know. I think the first set of records I made using 
the natural speech of Peking was a set of records for teaching 
foreigners--wai-kuo jen yung (for use of foreigners). 

Was it you who made the choice when standardizing the national 
language of this definition "speech of natives of Peking who 
have received a middle school education"? 

I don't remember the exact formulation, but that was the 
general idea, when the committee decided on the revised 
standard . 

And was that what you spoke in your second set of language 
records : 

That's right. 

Was that very different from what they call "blue-green 

Blue-green Mandarin is a popular phrase describing those people 
who pick up Mandarin keeping a lot of their own native accent. 
So there's no standard blue-green Mandarin [laughter]; it 
depends upon who is saying it. 

What techniques were used by you or the Committee on 
Unification to establish a standard for spoken Chinese? 
Were there broadcast programs, for instance? 


Were these efforts intensive? 

They were supposed to have been received by stations in various 

What about teaching school teachers, which, of course, would 
be another major approach? 

They made some attempt to reach the teachers; of course, in 
most parts of the country, it was just learning either one 
or another of a new dialect—whether the native speech of 
Peking or this artificial system would be a new dialect for 
them anyway. 


Schneider: What was the relationship between the teaching of this new 
spoken dialect and written materials? Now, the written 
materials were supposed to be written in a vernacular form, 
a colloquial form. Was there an intimate relationship 
between this new written colloquial and the Peking dialect 
that ultimately was taught? 

Chao: You mean the vocabulary used? 
Schneider: Vocabulary, idioms and so on, yes. 

Chao: As far as vocabulary and idioms are concerned, there's no 
difference between the artificial and the native; the 
difference there is only one of pronunciation. The interesting 
thing is that in one case, this artificial system is easier 
for speakers of the Nanking dialect because in the Nanking 
dialect, they already have the entering tone, they already 
distinguish between sharp and rounded initials, and they 
already make the difference between "o" and "e." They have 
different tone values, but the tone classes are the same; 
really, it is easy for native speakers of Nanking, except that 
in the city itself, there are very few speakers of the Nanking 
dialect. [Laughter] The majority of inhabitants usually came 
from different parts of the country — at least different parts 
of the province—and there is a relatively small number who 
speak a pure Nanking dialect. 

They did have a self -consistent system in the Nanking 
dialect, but I had to pick the right person to record the 
dialect there. In the high school I went to in Nanking, there 
were 273 students, I think, and only three of them were native 
born in Nanking. Of course, in the high school there, many 
of the students came from other districts. 

Schneider: Then, when it came time for the Peking dialect to be the 
standard, it was all the more difficult. 

Chao: Yes. The speaker of Nanking has to re-distribute their fifth 
tone into the other four, although changing from the sharp and 
rounded into just one series is easy; you just say whenever 
you have the ts , ts ' , £ followed by i^ or 'u_, pronounce the 
syllables as chi, ch ' i , hsi or chli, ch ' li , nsli. Just one rule 
will cover everything; it's always easier to combine two 
classes into one than to separate one class into two. 


Schneider: Did you have some personal experience in teaching adults who 
were then to be teachers, or dealing directly with young 
students in the new dialect? 


Schneider : 







I never did it systematically. Occasionally, I'd give lectures 
and private consultations, and I gave them insights to how 
to approach what the difficulties were. 

That is, with teachers as opposed to the students themselves? 
I did have some students who came for advice. 

How did they feel about learning the new dialect? 
resist it or do it easily? 

Did they 


I think they accepted that it was officially the standard, but 
it was a lot of time and effort to learn it. 

I've just read [John] DeFrancis' book, Nationalism and Language 
Reform in China.* He thanks you for your consultations, 
particularly on Chapter Four (One State, One People, One 
Language), and I wanted to ask if you agreed with the way he 
presents the Nationalization of the Language Movements, the 
Romanization movements, and particularly your own Gwoyeu 
Romatzyh. Did you agree with his general conclusions? 

I don't remember the contents of his book now, but as far as 
I can recall, I agreed mostly with him. 

According to DeFrancis, you told him that Hu Shih said that 
pai-hua had only been taught to a few intellectuals. 

Perhaps to the modernists, because there were also intellectuals- 
classicists—who were opposed to pai-hua and didn't bother much 
with the use of pai-hua. And of course, most publication is 
still in wen yen, the classical style. To this day, people 
make up new terms on the basis of the classical language rather 
than in terms of pai-hua. 

Is that true on the mainland also? 

*Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1950. 


Chao: Yes, that's what I mean. 

Schneider: When he said, "to a few intellectuals," was he emphasizing 
the "few" or the "intellectuals"? Did he mean that pai-hua 
wasn't reaching out to the greater number of people or that 
it was just limited to a small elite? What were the 

Chao: To the modernized. 

Schneider: Just to a small sector of the population. 

Chao: Yes. 





What did you do at home or with your friends? Did you speak 
the new artificial language, for instance, domestically with 
your wife? 

In my old home in Changchow, of course, we spoke Wu dialect, 
a Shanghai type of dialect. It was quite something else. 
I think the standard almost was on the point of being changed 
when I was married. Anyway, my wife speaks sort of--she was 
born in Nanking but her home was Anhwei, and she spoke sort of 
a southern Mandarin with some Anhwei trace. She went to school 
in Shanghai. Although she wasn't much of a linguist, she had 
much experience with the dialect. For a while, we played the 
game of speaking a dialect a day—today Nanking, tomorrow 
Shanghai, and another day in Hupei, where she had lived. 

The one interesting thing is that, although she studied 
three years in Shanghai, she had always consistently spoken 
southern Mandarin with h"er schoolmates and teachers. It was 
only after we got married that her Shanghai dialect came out 
loud; for the first time, she spoke it. She learned it by 
just the hearing; instead of the audio-lingual approach, it 
was just the audio approach. [Laughter] 

When your children were born-- 

Let's see. Our children had a very mixed linguistic experience. 
Our first daughter was born in Cambridge, Mass, and we spoke 
English to her, I think, at that time. Our second daughter was 
born in Cambridge, and before she started to talk, we went to 
Europe for a year and left the children with a French family; 
the first language of my second daughter, Nova, was French. 


Chao: After we went back another year—that was '24--in '25 

we went back to Peking and they started to talk northern 
speech and went to school there, of course, and spoke a 
northern speech. We left Peking in the early thirties and 
went south when Academia Sinica was organized in Nanking, spent 
one year in Shanghai and then later in Nanking. Their dialect 
was quite mixed in those days, although we spoke Mandarin at 

RL: In other words, they didn't learn the artificial language. 

Chao: No. I don't think I spoke that artificial language consistently 
with anybody for any length of time. 

Schneider: I have one question about the teaching of the Peking dialect 
when that was finally established as the standard. I would 
be interested in knowing the form of teaching it and the 
difficulty of learning it in the schools. Was it necessary 
by the mid -twenties and later twenties to teach it as one would 
teach a foreign language? In other words, for a young Chinese 
student learning this, what kind of effort would have to be 
put in? 

Chao: I think most of it had to do with the matter of pronunciation 
because in the vocabulary, it's only everyday words, like 
"this," "that," and personal pronouns; otherwise, the more 
advanced the material is, the more general it is for all of 
China. Scientific terms and so forth would be the same. 

Schneider: How much effort would a young student have to put in in his 
school work just to learn these new pronunciations? Was it 
a casual sort of thing? Were there separate classes for it? 

Chao: No. It was usually treated casually, and maybe the result was 
also casual. [Laughter] It wasn't done very intensively. 

Schneider: At the universities, when a student graduated high school in 
the late twenties and was expected to have learned his Peking 
dialect, was he going to hear lectures at one of the national 
universities in Mandarin? 

Chao: When you went to a university, it depended on the teacher; 
sometimes the teacher himself couldn't speak too well. Ku 
Chieh-kang who taught first in Amoy University and later 
further north, spoke with a heavy Soochow acent, I think; 
his students had difficulty following him. 




Schneider : 





What about extra-curricular life on the campus? Did the 
Peking dialect ever become a kind of lingua franca or did 
everyone choose to use their own dialects in communicating 
with each other? 

They tried to approximate each other's, but some form of 
Mandarin was also used. As a matter of fact, in Chung Shan 
[university] in Canton where I first visited in 1929, I think, 
they started a movement using Mandarin in the classes, and 
the students were expected to follow that. It had made quite 
a bit of headway. 

More recently, last year [1973], when I visited Shanghai 
and Canton, nine-tenths of the broadcasts were done in Mandarin, 
in p 'u-t 'ung hua, and only one-tenth in the local dialect. The 
same with Canton. In the larger stores, everybody talked some 
sort of Mandarin, maybe with an accent. 

In the late twenties and early thirties, there were not as 
many mass media of course, but on the stage, in the theater, 
or on films (I understand there were films being done then) , 
was Mandarin used then? 

Mandarin mostly. In the traditional stage, there was also a 
special traditional stage pronunciation. 

That, of course, continued? 

Yes. It shares some of the features of the old, artificial 
Mandarin; like the distinction between sharp and flat; that 
was an important point in the stage pronunciation. 

My last question on this subject was to inquire when you were 
in China last year, in 1973, how closely did the pronunciation 
of Mandarin approximate to the standards that you and your 
friends set in the twenties and thirties? 

There had been much less change than I had anticipated; very 
little change. Also, on a trip before that, in Hong Kong, 
I made tape recordings of people who came recently out from 
China, and I couldn't detect any change that was noticeable. 
The only thing that struck me was that, in making up new terms- 
scientific or other terms—they still relied largely on the 
use of wen yen or the classical language. So that some of them 
had a lot of sibilants and so forth that didn't really carry 
too well for oral communication. 









That's very interesting. 

Some of the scholars are still formally educated in the 
classical tradition. 

So they draw from the classical tradition rather than from-- 

Everyday speech. 

Or by matching sounds. 


Were films subtitled in characters? 

Foreign films would have Chinese translations, but otherwise 
they assumed that you could follow the Mandarin conversation. 

Romanization and Gwoyeu Romatzyh 





When you and your friends were working intensively on 
romanization in 1925 and so on, how much did you refer to 
earlier schemes, such as some of the missionary efforts-- 
either examples not to follow or in any other way? 

Yes. Of course, we studied all the various forms — the older 
system of the BEFEO, the French system, and also the Wade-Giles, 
of course, which is still recognized; I think Wade-Giles has 
always been alive and still is, even in mainland China. When 
they sometimes have to communicate with the West, they use 
Wade-Giles rather than the new pinyin system. 

Why is that, do you think? 

I suppose just the weight of tradition, and also the great 
amount of publications in western languages using it. Even 
the French and the Germans, I understand, sometimes use 
Wade-Giles rather than their own system of romanizing Chinese. 

The National Phonetic Alphabet preceded GR [Gwoyeu Romatzyh] 
and received some official support from the Kuomintang in 1930. 
DeFrancis said that it failed due to a combination of apathy 


RL: and disagreement and distrust. How do you feel about the 

merits of the National Phonetic Alphabet? 

Chao: I wouldn't consider that it has failed, because it still 

exists as an alternate system, although it's not very 
popular. It agrees with the structure of the Chinese 
language in dividing words into initials, medial, and final, 
so that the longest spelling would be three letters—three 
of those signs. It goes well on the side of characters in a 
parallel text of characters and the sound. [Hand gesture 
vertically down.] 

Schneider: Is that the system that's used, for example, in Taiwan in 
children's books, sometimes picture-books? 

Chao: Yes, still actively used. 

RL: A good part of DeFrancis' book is on Latinxhua. What did you 

think of it in the early twenties and thirties when you were 
concerned with these matters? 

Chao: That was one form, the predecessor of the present standard 

pinyin. Pinyin now again is based on the standard of Peking. 
Pinyin is more or less the successor to Latinxhua. 



Which is what is currently used in China. Did you meet and 
discuss this sytem with any of its proponents, most of whom 
had been in Russia, such as Ch'li Ch'iu-pai? 

Not in detail, no; I never had long discussions with him. 

He was subsequently executed. Was it difficult for you to 
meet with him? 



I don't remember. 

From the outside, one gets a picture of such factionalism, such 
heated disputes. I don't get any of that feeling from you, 
and I don't know how much this is your temperament and how 
much this represents how well you were able to get on with 
many different sorts of people? 

I haven't been to any of the violent arguments, but I heard 
stories of people throwing teacups at each other after some 
meeting on the standard of the national language. 


Schneider: May I go back to Ch'li Ch'iu-pai for one moment? I know that 
he was a rather outspoken critic of the pai-hua movement. 
But the writings I've read of his ordinarily refer to Hu Shih's 
conception of pai-hua. Was he more in favor of the kinds of 
language reforms that you were working with. 

Chao: It's so long ago since I've read anything at all, I can't 


Schneider: I was never clear quite what he had in mind when he talked 
about p'u-t 'ung hua. 

Chao: Yes. That term p'u-t 'ung hua has had some changes in the scope 

of its inclusion. It used to mean—several decades ago--any 
speech not obviously a special dialect, like Cantonese or 
Shanghai; any sort of semi-Mandarin speech with any accent. 
It was only quite recently that the term was adopted to 
substitute for the term kuo-yu, and with the standard speech 
of Peking as the standard. So p'u-t 'ung hua is really 
synonymous with what used to be called kuo-yu. You see, 
kuo-yu had had two standards, originally an artificial standard 
with certain dictions and later, just the dialect of Peking 

Schneider: Was a man like Ch'li Ch'iu-pai against standardization or 

Chao: My impression was that he wasn't. 

Schneider: He was not against it? 
Chao: I can't be sure. 

Schneider: I remember him writing about the true pai-hua or true p'u-t 'ung 
hua being the language of "the man in the street," the language 
of the proletariat. I was never quite sure how that would work 
with your program. 

Chao: There are two ideas—one is the style of speech of different 

classes, and the other is the phonetic system, which dialect 
it is that you take as the standard. 

RL: Perhaps since you raised this, I could skip a little. Your 

defense against critics who said that the GR system led to 
ambiguity was that if a speaker spoke in language that was 









clear and full in sound, that the ambiguities would disappear. 
Can you illustrate what you meant by that? 

I think GR is just intended to be a practical system of 
writing, where you don't have diacritics, and hyphens, and 
aspiration marks and so forth. It is truly the equivalent of-- 
say--any of the systems used by Europeans when it s fully 
written, such as the Wade-Giles system. If you put in all the 
aspiration signs and the tone signs, they're fully the same 
and give the same information as GR, so that by hearing a 
passage written in GR and hearing a passage written in full 
Wade-Giles spelling, you can't tell the difference; it's just 
the Peking sound, or the same as when written in the National 

You felt that the advantage of GR was the absence of so many 
diacritical marks? 

That's right. And it also has certain tricks of abbreviation, 
like changing the spelling instead of adding something. The 
cost of indicating tones is, I think, something like half a 
letter, rather than adding an additional letter. It claims 
to be a distinguishable form of writing, and each syllable 
has an individual look that you can memorize. 

The Kuomintang disapproved of Latinxhua. Was this solely on 
political grounds, because it had been developed in Soviet 

I suppose partly at least. And also, the Kuomintang, of course, 
had already recognized GR as the official form. 

How did you feel when some of your old friends, like Wang 
Yiin-wu, supposed Latinxhua? 

I don't remember that he did. 

Perhaps that's not accurate. I got that from DeFrancis. On 
the political side again, did you feel that GR would lead to 
what's described as integral nationalism, a united country 
as opposed to Latinxhua, which had different romanizations 
for some of the other areas like Kwangtung, and would lead 
to a form of federated nationalism? 


Chao: I don't think that the relation is as clear as that, although 
it is possible--it 's intended to be, may be possible to write 
it in the other dialects. On the other hand, you could just 
as well adapt GR to other dialects — in fact, I did have a 
system of transcription for Cantonese on the same principles 
that GR is on. 

RL: What happened to that Cantonese system? 

Chao: I used it in one of my Cantonese textbooks, and I found a use 
for it for purposes of instruction. 

RL: When you were instructing, I assume that was westerners. Do 
you think it would have been equally useful for teaching 
reading to Cantonese speakers? 

Chao: For teaching reading to Cantonese? I haven't taught Cantonese 
to Cantonese. [Laughter] 

Schneider: Of course, Mr. DeFrancis' book was published in 1950. Has 

there been some revival of the system or some greater interest 
shown in it since 1950, which he would not have had a chance 
to put in his book? 

Chao: I wouldn't call it revival, because it has more or less been 
used all along. 

Schneider: Some greater interest shown in it since '50 for some reason? 

Chao: No, I can't say. In China itself now, there is no opposition 
to the National Phonetic Alphabet, although they don't use it 

Schneider: Where would it be used on the mainland? What kinds of places? 

Chao: They don't actively use it, but they use materials which have 
been published using that system. 

Schneider: Reprinting. 

Chao: Yes. And of course, people who were interested in language 
and dialects would still use those materials. 


RL: We talked last week about [Bernhard] Karlgren.* He was very 
critical of GR [Gwoyeu Romatzyh] . Was this damaging? 

Chao: I don't think it had much effect because Karlgren 's contact 
with Chinese were mostly with the technical personnel in 

RL : I'm interested in the aims of the Ministry of Education. I 
think you were asked with your colleagues to prepare a 
romanization system, which was officially adopted only in 
1928. How did you feel about official lack of interest in 
the scheme? 

Chao: In general, in the official circles, they didn't push very 

hard any of those schemes, except perhaps unification of the 
national [spoken] language; they did encourage the idea of 
unification. But as to the difference between various schemes 
or representations, and also various standards of pronunciation, 
like the question of whether you use an artif icial--kuo yu-- 
national pronunication, or use the dialect of Peking city, 
the official circles were somewhat indifferent. It was up to 
the committee to decide. 

RL: When DeFrancis mentions your translation of A. A. Milne's 
play, The Camber ley Triangle, he describes it as a text 
written in GR for the promulgation of Gwoyeu Romatzyh. Is 
that accurate? 

Chao: It wasn't primarily for that. One of the purposes was to have 
an extended text written in that form, a parallel text with 
the characters. 

RL: I forget who made this comment, but you were talking about 

the unification of the national language. I have a quotation 
here that "literacy is necessary, but unification of the 
national language is even more important." Did you feel at 
that time, in the twenties, that that was true? 

Chao: Is that what I said? 

RL: No, I don't think you said it. I haven't got a page reference 
here. But in the pulling and hauling within professional, 

*Bernhard Karlgren, Etudes sur la phonologie chinoise, Upsala, 
K.W. Appelberg, 1915-1926. 








academic and government circles, it seemed to be that 
romanization fell by the wayside many times either because 
of other government priorities or because unification of 
speech was felt to be more important. 

Actually, of course, romanization would be an important 
instrument for unification. 

How would that be? 

Because romanization is romanized in one dialect; the national 
romanization is the dialect of Peking, the admitted standard. 

Yes, but even with English that is romanized, you have 
speakers who are literally unintelligible [laughter] to other 
English speakers. I'm thinking of Yorkshire mine workers, 
for example. 

Something of theoretical maybe minor importance was that we 
decided that a superscript after a letter meant a little 
additional sound, whereas a subscript means an adjectival 
modification of the preceding sound. That has been more or 
less followed by Academia Sinica, both the old Academia Sinica 
and what they now call K'o-hsueh Yuan, of which the western 
name is still Academia Sinica. 

You mean the one on Taiwan or the mainland? 

The mainland. In Taiwan it's called Chung-yang Yen-chiu Yuan. 

Language Reform and Literature 


I would like to ask you about language reform and literature. 
Perhaps we could start with your famous translation of Alice 
in Wond e r 1 and . * I was talking to [Wolfram] Eberhard last 
night, and he admitted with shame that he had never read Alice 
in Wonderland in either English, German or Chinese [laughter] 
but that when he was in China in the thirties, your translation 
was spoken of so much and many girls had the name A-li-ssu or 

*A-li-ssu man-yu ch'i-ching chi (translation of Alice's Adventures 
in Wonderland , by Lewis Carroll), Commercial Press, Shanghai, 











or Alice; perhaps it resulted from your translation. Why 

did you choose that particular book for your first translation? 

I had liked Lewis Carroll books when I was a student at 
Cornell. I thought it would be fun to translate that into 
Chinese. In this first translation, I didn't stick too 
closely to actual speech style. It was Through the Looking 
Glass that I translated more strictly following the original 
and strictly in the colloquial form. Another thing was that 
in Through the Looking Glass I followed the original meter 
and rhyming scheme of the English. You can't do that with 
classical Chinese because it takes so many more syllables in 
English than in Chinese to get the same ideas across; in 
modern spoken Chinese, you use more syllables anyway. 

How did you cope with the nonsense words? 

I made up nonsense words with similar sounds. 

How was this received in China? 

That sold very well, the Alice in Wonderland books. In fact, 
the second year, Shen Ts'ung-wen, one of the writers there, 
wrote Alice in China (Alissu Chung-kuo Tu-chi) ; it was more 
serious, a political satire. 

Have you seen the Annotated Alice* which came out a few years 
ago? It's by an American scholar, and he's given a very 
elaborate and funny footnote apparatus to both Alice's Adventures 
in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. 

I missed that one. 

Would you like to see it? I'll bring it next time. 

Yes, I would like to. Is that a new book? 

Four or five years old. 

Then it's still available. In general, it's easier to 
translate western verse into modern colloquial Chinese than 
the classic. 

*Introduction and notes by Martin Gardner, New York. C.N. Potter, 





Did you make a reasonable income from your writing? 

It sold fairly well in several editions. The royalties in 
those days were very minor sums. I got a royalty from my 
songs of contemporary poems;* I think the last account I 
got from Taiwan was something like seven dollars per year. 

Who read Alice in Wonderland in Chinese? Was it read by 
adults, or read to children, or read by children? 

I have no idea. I came across more adults who read it. I've 
read it to my own children. 

Schneider: Western editions of Alice are always illustrated. Was yours? 
Chao: Yes. We used the original Tenniel illustrations. 
Schneider: They used his? I see. 

Publishing with the Commercial Press, Shanghai 

RL: I noticed that your first five publications were with the 

Commercial Press in Shanghai. Why did you publish with them? 

Chac: In those days, I guess, the Commercial Press had more branches 
than any other. One of my books on Basic English was published 
by the Chung-hua Book Company; that was the second largest 
publisher. Commercial Press was the largest. 

RL: Did they at that time have a branch in Peking? 

Chao: Yes, but I think I did my negotiations with Shanghai. 

RL: Can you describe some of the people who were running it? Who 
was head of it, for instance, at that time? 

Chao: Kao Meng-ta, I think, was the head of it at that time. Wang 
Yiin-wu was much later; he called himself W.W. Wang because 
in Cantonese pronunciation, Wang Yun would be W.W. 

*Kuo-yin hsin shih-ylin (New book of rhymes), VIII - 105 pp., 
Commercial Press, Shanghai, 1923. 


RL: Was he a scholar? 

Chao: He wasn't particularly a research scholar but he was very 

scholarly. He was head of the supervisory Yuan in Taiwan; 
after he retired, he went back to Commercial Press again. 

RL: What was their major output? Was it school books or texts? 

Chao: They published everything, an enormous amount of publications. 

Schneider: Did you find them flexible in the kinds of things they 
published? Did they question the utility of Alice? 

Chao: They accepted it readily. 

RL: Did advertising and distribution and other financial procedures 

between author and publisher differ from the sorts of 
procedures we're used to in the west? 

Chao: I think it was quite similar, although I think they didn't go 

about it as intensively as in the west. Most of the people 
who worked in Commercial Press were trained in the western 

RL : About how large a printing was the average edition of one of 

your publications with them? 

Chao: I can't tell. I used to get periodic reports of sales. 

RL: I read somewhere that, for a new novel, they would print either 

a thousand or two thousand copies. 

Chao: I would say nowadays they print more, assuming there's a 

greater literacy among the people. 

RL : Problems of fiction in China--! wonder if you ever knew van Gulick.* 

Chao: Yes, I met him. 

RL : Did you discuss the problems of writing fiction in colloquial 

Chinese with him? 

*Robert Hans van Gulick, The Lore of the Chinese Lute: An Essay 
on Ch'in Ideology, Tokyo, Sophia University, 1940. 






No, I don't recall. I think it was Chinese music we discussed; 
he was interested in Chinese music. 

What did you think of his work on the Chinese lute? 

I think it was a good piece of work, a good piece of research, 
although I have myself made no special study of the Chinese 

How do you pronounce the word z-i-t-h-e-r? 

Zither. I think nowadays they prefer to translate the Chinese 
word ch ' in as zither rather than lute. 







Moving on to the theater, I noticed that you translated and 
staged A. A. Milne's The Camberly Triangle. Why did you choose 
this play? 

I can't remember whether I saw it performed in the west or 
what. Anyway, those were the days when we were interested 
in having real live conversation written as one would actually 
speak. So, we did the translation and put it on stage. 

Who was there? What sort of audience did you have? 

I would say mostly students and teachers rather than the 
general public. 

This play is a triangle situation—two men in love with one 
woman. Was this considered at all shocking? 

No. And also, although Chinese names were given to them, 
they were supposed to be foreign; we had foreign scenery. 

Did it seem exciting, or a novelty? This isn't a theme in 
classical Chinese. 












No. There were other spoken plays staged in those days; it 
wasn't one of the first. 

It appears to have been a time of active translation of 
western plays into Chinese. Was this a deliberate part of 
the language reform movement? 

I don't think it was especially connected with the reform 
movement. It was useful material for using the colloquial 
because in a play the dialects have to be in the colloquial. 

In Shanghai you have a very wide range of western playwrights 
being translated--Goldoni, Gogol, Mollie're and so on. What 
sort of a spread did you have in Peking? Which authors were 
the most popular? 

I haven't followed that very closely, but I don't think there 
was much difference between Shanghai and Peking. Usually 
when something was produced in Shanghai, it was also produced 
in the other and vice versa. It might have been slightly 
different in Canton because of the use of Mandarin. 

They would have to do their own translations, you mean? 

Yes. A play in Mandarin in Canton would be hard to follow 
for a Cantonese, but speech of Shanghai dialect--although 
Shanghai is very different from Mandarin—people there would 
have a passing knowledge of Mandarin. 

What about the German influence in Peking? I gathered from 
Mr. Eberhard that there was a very strong German colony. Did 
they stage the plays of Goethe and Schiller and so on? 

Not especially, not that I noticed. 

You mentioned Peking opera before. 
Peking opera? 

Did you enjoy going to 

I didn't like Peking opera, actually, very much, because-- 
I think I can say that I don't enjoy opera very much [laughter] 
in any country. My theory is that the music interfers with 
the intelligibility of the words and the words interferes with 
the free play of music, whereas those who like opera would say 
that one enhances the other. It's probably a matter of taste. 















[To LS] Professor Chao took part in a performance of Aida 
here in 1919. [Laughter] 

Yes, when I was a student here. 

Did you ever see the famous actor, Mei Lan-fan? 

Yes. I knew him personally. He came to our house in Peking 
and asked me about pronunciation. He was a native of Peking 
without the distinction of the sharp and flat (tsi-ts'i-si 
and chi-ch 'i-hsi) ; his adviser, Ch ' i Ju-shan from Paoting, 
could make these sounds, so he often would correct Mei about 
pronouncing those words. 

What did you do? Did you help him, give him some coaching? 

We just discussed some things in general about pronunciation. 

Were you impressed with him? 

He was very approachable, a very fine fellow, yes. 

I understand that he mostly took female roles. 

Yes. Once in a long time, he would switch roles just for fun, 
but normally he took female roles. 

Was he effeminate-looking? 

He was young-looking for his age, not especially effeminate. 
But on the stage, he was properly dressed up and made up. 

I gather that he was really one of the dominant stars of the 
Peking scene at that time. 

Yes, he was. 

Did you also know Ch ' i Ju-shan? 

I don't think he performed; he just advised Mei Lan-fan. 

Eberhard was mentioning to me this circle of people—Harold 
Acton, Gustave Ecke, and others who were close to Mei Lan-fan. 
I wondered if you knew this group or took any part in it? 


I knew Ecke; I don't think I knew the others. 




Did you have any particular preferences among the Peking 

I liked that "k'ung ch'eng chi"--whatever play it was — the 
strategy of the empty city (k'ung ch'eng chi) , with Chu-ko 
Liang as one of the characters. 

Folklore and Language Reform 






Did you notice a relationship between the folklore societies 
and language reform? 

I don't think there was any particularly close relation, they 
were just interested in collecting folklore and folk songs. 
I wasn't very active in that. I did try to record some of the 
old folk songs I used to know as a child. 

What led you to study the Yao folk songs and the Tibetan 
love songs? 

I was actually doing dialect survey in Hunan, and in Kwangtung, 
Kwangsi and so forth. It happened that in Canton city there 
were some people who knew by heart some of the Yao folk songs. 
I had them pronounce them and I transcribed them. I was also 
interested in the fact that a lot of the vocabulary were 
borrowings from Chinese. The basis of the language, of course, 
is non-Chinese, but there were a lot of borrowings, and in the 
borrowings it constituted practically a different Chinese 

Had this been recognized before? 

Yes, people realized that the Yao people did borrow a lot of 
Chinese words. It was possible for me to write tables of 
correspondence between different vowels and consonants, between 
the Yao pronunciation and the dialect from which they borrowed. 

As for the Tibetan, it happened that there was a Tibetan 
in Peking who knew a lot of the Tibetan folk songs, and with 
Mr. Yii Tao-ch'iian, who knew more Tibetan than I did, we recorded 
them. He did most of the translation and I recorded the songs. 













The folklore societies, I gather, were, at least at some 
stages, somewhat suppressed and, according to Eberhard, more 
than ten thousand people fled to Canton from Peita. I wonder 
if you know anything about the circumstances, what they did 
to cause the persecution, why they went to Canton? 

When was this? 

Middle thirties? Eberhard arrived in China in 1934. 

I was in Nanking from '34 to '37. Academia Sinica was in 
Nanking at that time. Why wasn't I aware of this flight of 
folksong writers? 

No, they were people studying folklore — folklore societies. 
It seems a very large figure, ten thousand. 

I can hardly believe it's true. 

Eberhard also mentioned Chung Ching-wen and asked if you knew 
him, if you worked with him at all? 

I never knew him. 

He was a friend of Ku Chieh -kang- -younger . 

Were you at all interested in some of the things which the 
communist government has been very interested in--things like 
shadow plays and puppet plays and hand puppet plays? 

Not especially. I saw some of the shows but only as a layman; 
I've never studied those things. 

When you were doing your surveys of dialects and then later 
recording Yao and Tibetan material, the so-called folklore 
movement was growing out of Peking. It seems that generally 
there had grown up an interest perhaps from the late teens 
into the early twenties, an interest in all forms of folklore, 
starting with folk songs. To what do you attribute this? 
Does it seem as sudden to you as it appears when one goes back 
over the record? What motivated people to study these things? 

I suppose it was just the general idea of reaching the people 
rather than confining your own study to the review of the 
classics. The general idea was finding out how things are as 
they are found among the people rather than getting everything 
from books. 


Schneider: Was this perceived as a sharp break from the way scholars 
behaved in the past? 

Chao: I don't know whether to call it a sharp break; it's certainly 

a different direction of activity on the part of scholars. 

Schneider: Where did they get their inspiration—not suggesting necessarily 
that there was one inspiration? 

Chao: I suppose western influence had something to do with it. People 

in the west—Europe and America—did go into the field to find 
out how things are rather than digging in the library finding 
out how things were. 

Schneider: Were there some individuals that stand out in your mind as 

being Chinese intellectuals who were sort of pioneers or who 
set the standard for this kind of activity? In the twenties, 
let's say. 

Chao: Hu Shih was in favor of it, although he himself didn't do very 

much in this line, and Ku Chieh-kang. 

RL: William Yeh? 

Chao: What's the Chinese name? 

RL: I'm afraid I don't know. 

Schneider: There are some people whose names are sometimes associated 

with the folklore movement, but it's not clear to what degree 
they actually went into the field. Ch ' ien Hsuan-t'ung was 

Chao: Yes. He was very much in favor of the idea but he himself 

stuck more with books. [Laughter] He's very radically- 
minded, but somewhat old fashioned in his actions. 

RL: On that point of being radically-minded, in nineteenth-century 

England, Morris and his folklore and all those movements had 
very slight political connotations, whereas in other countries 
and I would think particularly in China, some "folk movements" 
had a left-wing bias. How true is that observation—that 
those people who were interested in folklore were also very 
interested in reform and possibly in revolution? 


Chao: I think there is a certain positive correlation. As for 

Ch'ien Hsiian-t 'ung's radically-minded aspect, I think at one 
time he even advocated the use of Esperanto to displace 
the Chinese language. I don't know whether he took it 
seriously when he said that. 

Schneider: Among the ways, apparently, that some of these scholars 
suggested that reform could be facilitated through the 
folklore movement was the use of folk traditions by the 
reformists. For example, taking traditional folk plays and 
re-writing them so that they carried a new reform message. 
Were you ever witness to these kinds of things? Did you 
ever yourself advocate using, for example, a folk song as 
a medium for carrying a modern message? 

Chao: No, I've never done that sort of thing. 

Schneider: Did you ever yourself witness any of the results of some of 
these efforts to reform through traditional folk plays or 
folk songs. 

Chao: Of course, I've seen plays advocating social and intellectual 
changes, and of course the spoken drama itself is a new 
institution, is an imported, western institution; all 
[Chinese] drama was sung previously. 

Schneider: I had heard that some of the Peking University professors 

enjoyed taking folk songs that were popular and writing what 
technically would be parodies of them for occasional purposes, 
Did you ever hear any of those? 

Chao: Yes. I can't recall any specific instance of it. 
Schneider: But it was done? 
Chao: Yes. 

New Styles in Intellectual Enterprise 


Is there anything else you would like to say about the folklore 
movement or folk songs--their importance in your life or the 
intellectual life of the Chinese at this period? 


Chao: As far as I could notice, that aspect of it didn't have so 
much to do with life in general as the change from writing 
in the classical into writing in the vernacular. That was 
a real important change --making writing in the vernacular 
more respectable or fashionable. 

Schneider: You suggested that one of the motivations for the folklore 

movement in its various forms was to get to know people more 
directly. Did it have that effect, do you think? Did it 
achieve that? 

Chao: It brought the intellectuals more into contact with various 
classes of people than before. 

Schneider: Was that your experience in your dialect work—that you got 
to know classes of people that you might not have otherwise? 

Chao: Yes, although, unfortunately, in my dialect work when I tried 
to make contact, usually I'd get students, who are not 
representative, who didn't know too much of the traditional 
form of the dialect I was surveying. I had to write down 
very carefully the background of the speech of my informants. 

Schneider: Finally, did your work in the realm of dialects, as well as 
the people working in folklore—was there some sense that 
there was here a contribution here to the so-called new 
culture, which was always being talked about in the 1920s? 

Chao: Of course, that sort of thing was unscholarly from the old 
point of view. In that respect, it formed part of the new 
culture movement. 

Schneider: That is to say, working in an area of scholarship which 

previously had not been considered legitimate. Did you all, 
by 1937, the time of the war, think you had succeeded in 
making this a legitimate, scholarly enterprise? 

Chao: Yes. By 1937 it was recognized everywhere. 
RL: What brought about the change, do you think? 

Chao: I think through the activities at different universities — 
Of course, when the Kuomintang took over, the official view 
was that you should take the modern point of view in regard 
to scholarship. But even before then, I think all along— 
the late 1910s, 1920s and 1930s— all these things were 
academically respectable already. 


RL : It must have been a period of great excitement, a renaissance 

or perhaps a birth of new learning in China. Did you feel 
yourself very much part of the new wave? 

Chao: At least I felt I was in sympathy with the newer movement. 

The earliest contact with such new feelings about study and 
research — at least when I came into contact with such 
movements --was way back in the early 1900s, before the 
republican revolution, and some of the publications were not 
approved by the authorities, were even secretly put out. 

Schneider: These would have been publications on language reform? 

Chao: Not so much language reform but reform in general and the 

introduction of western ideas. Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, himself 
a loyalist, was in favor of many changes, although he, himself, 
wasn't very much active in the vernacular literature movement. 
I think I said before that the funniest thing was that in 1917, 
when Hu Shih advocated the use of the vernacular in writing, 
he himself wrote that article in the classical style. 

RL : Would there have been any problem in its being read had he 

written it in the vernacular style? 

Chao: I don't think so, because people did read the vernacular 

style--Dream of the Red Chamber—and various novels, except 
that they were not respectable in those days. [Laughter] 

Schneider: Did you get much serious opposition in the twenties from the 
professors at Tung-nan ta-hs'ueh who wrote, let's say, Hsueh 
Heng in kind of a classical form? 

Chao: By that time, those at Tung-nan ta-hsueh were already aware 

that they were the minority in those days; they could oppose 
what you did, but they couldn't do much about it. 

Schneider: Their journal, in which they continued to write in classical 
style, went on till 1933. Was it kind of a perversity on 
their part, or what did they represent? 

Chao: They represented the classical tradition. 

Schneider: They felt that there was some hope in doing it? I'm trying 
to get at why you think they might have continued so long 
with the fight? 


Chao: Well, their tradition is still being carried on in some 

Schneider: Were there any individuals at the university that were more 
outspoken than others in opposing the kinds of language 
change that you were supporting? 

Chao: No. Of course, I myself was more interested in dialect 

study and unification of the national language than advocating 
the writing of the new vocabulary in literature. 

Y.R. Chao as Composer and Singer 




Schneider : 

Today I've brought a cassette that Mr. Eberhard lent me with 
records of Chinese music of the '20s and '30s on it.* Mr. 
Chao composed the music and sang some of the songs for Pathe". 
I'd like to play it now, and ask Professor Chao to comment 
as we go along. 

[A very martial song; with chorus] 

I think words of three of those verses have been censored; 
that's why the piece is just hummed. I'm not sure whether 
I did both the words and the music, or one of them, but I 
think I probably did the words as well, and they were censored 
for political reasons. 

What were the words? 

I don't remember. [Laughter] 

Could you give an approximate date for this? 


The late '20s or early '30s. I could perhaps look it up in 
my papers, although it would take some time to find it. 

About this censorship--! 'm sorry I didn't pick up on the 
content of the song--what was the general flavor of it? 

*A copy of this cassette has been deposited in The Bancroft 


Chao: There's nothing; simply, just look inside, wanting each 

RL: Look inside what? 

Chao: Look inside the city; look at the lights. So, there's no 
content because the content has become all "ah, ah." 

Schneider: Do you have any recollection of what it might have been 

Chao: No. Maybe about the bad state of the livelihood of people, 
things like that. 

RL: How did the censorship work? 

Chao: Actually, it was just opposed, I suppose, by the authorities; 
they didn't actually carry out any strict enforcement of such 

RL : It was a form of voluntary compliance? 

Chao: Yes. 

Schneider: Was it a popular song that was played on the radio? 

Chao: No, it went with the movie, Tu-shih Feng-kuang. Tu-shih means 
a metropolis, feng-kuang means sights, and scenery, and things 

Schneider: Was that the title song? 

Chao: I think it was just sung in the film. 

RL: Did you do a lot of work for the movies? 

Chao: No, not much. Occasionally. 

RL: I'll play the next song. 

[Melodic love song; Mr. Chao singing, with piano and violin 
accompaniment . ] 

Schneider: Bravo! 




That's the song I collaborated with Liu Fu (Liu Pan-nung) , 
the phonetician. It's still a very popular song, V$3\-J£afa] 
^3-Mfe?(Chino Wo Jo-ho Pu Hsiang T'u?)--"How Can I Help 
Thinking of T'a?" T'a is him or her as the case may be. 

As a matter of fact, this morning, at seven o'clock, I 
had a call long-distance from Taiwan, asking me about the 
circumstances of composing that song. [Laughter] Let me see, 
it was ten o'clock their time. 

Would you mind telling us what you told the inquirer from 

Schneider: If it's repeatable. [Laughter] 

Chao: They just wanted to know whether it was addressed to anybody 
in particular. I said the words were general. 

RL: I wondered, as I thought about the conventional image of a 
Chinese scholar, how your colleagues reacted to these 
activities of yours? 

Chao: Well, apparently they didn't mind. 

RL: When we talked about music a little earlier, you said you 

tended not to use Chinese influences much because you liked 
to use western harmony. But this seems to me to have close 
links with at least one of the Chinese traditions of music. 

Chao: What do you mean? It's slightly pentatonic--not exactly, but 
the melody is slightly Chinese. But that modulation from 
E major to G major is very western, and back to E major. 

RL: I gather this was perhaps one of the most popular songs in 

China. Was this in the 1930s or '20s. Do you remember when 
you wrote it? 

Chao: There's a much later edition not published until rather 

recently—a collection of songs of contemporary poems, but 
it includes that as one of them. 

RL: How were records distributed then? Were they sold in record 

Chao: Yes. 


RL: Did you and your friend, Liu Fu, make much money from it? 

Chao: I did get some royalties, but from this record I got very 

little. It was from the Mandarin teaching record that I got 
a little more. 

Schneider: Was this song distributed as sheet music? 

Chao: Yes. 

Schneider: So, in addition to the record, this was being circulated too. 

Chao: It's right here—one of the large blue books, greenish-blue. 

I'd like to give a copy to each one of you, with my compliments, 

RL : Thank you very much. What is this called? 

Chao: It's called Hsin Shih Ke Chi.* 

Schneider: Thank you. 

[Another song, with chorus.] 
RL: Did you also sing this one? 

Chao: Yes. I don't think that's in this collection--"Punting on the 

Yangtze River." 

RL: Were you in any way in this following the "Song of the Volga 


Chao: No, this is actually based on the melody I heard of Chinese 


RL : When you were a child? 

Chao: Yes. 

Schneider: Beautiful. 

Chao: That change back into the major is an entirely western idea. 

Schneider: I take it that yours was the first transcription of this. 

Chao: Yes, I think so. I haven't seen it elsewhere. 

*Hsin Shih Ke Chi (Songs of Contemporary Poems) , Shanghai 
1928, Taipei 1960, 66pp. 


RL: Did you find many people interested in this, connected, let's 
say, with the folklore movement? 

Chao: Not especially. Most people interested in folklore in 

general were interested in music, but not especially in the 
westernized form of it. 

RL: Let's hear a little bit more. 

[Spoken English: Sea Rhyme. Words by Hsu Chih-mo, music 
by Y.R. Chao. Sung by Columbia Teachers' College Singers, 
under the direction of Pao-ch'en Lee. Piano, chorus, and 
orchestra. ] 

Chao: That also was performed in Taiwan. This is another recording, 
I guess, but in Taiwan there was a concert in which this was 
performed in '59, I think. 

RL: But you composed it much earlier. 

Chao: Yes, at least before the date of publication of this book. 

Schneider: So before 1928 

Chao: Yes. In fact, the poet--Hsu Chih-mo--had no chance to hear 
it; he had died before it was published. 

RL: Were you sought out by poets? How did these collaborations 

Chao: Some of them I had consultations with; some of the older ones, 
of course, I had no chance to consult. On perhaps half of 
those numbers there, I did consult with the writers. 

Schneider: In this last instance with Hsu Chih-mo, did you have an 
opportunity to consult with him? 

Chao: Yes. He asked me to compose it, but too bad he never had a 

chance to hear it; as you know, he died in an airplane accident, 

Schneider: Yes, a great loss. 

RL : You must have had a great deal of fun with this; did you give 
private concerts for your friends? 


Chao: I wouldn't call them concerts; not on any large scale, but 
I would play them to groups of friends. 

RL: What was your interest in collecting children's songs? 
I noticed that you published a collection in 1935. 

Chao: How did I start getting interested in those? [Pause] I 

can't recall [laughter] how it got started, but I did it and 
found it very interesting. 

RL: How did you go about it? Was it from your children's friends? 

Chao: Yes, mostly, or rather friends' children, and children's 
friends . 



Purposes of the Surveys 

RL : I'd like you to talk about the series of dialect studies that 

you did in the twenties and thirties. Were these technically 
studies or surveys? I mean, were you finding the boundaries 
of where a dialect spread to, or were you studying the dialect 
as it was spoken by a typical speaker? 

Chao: I think, more or less, the idea was to get the speech of what 

I thought would be representative of a certain region. But 
when I stopped at a place, I would try to get speakers from 
various surrounding districts in the same province. 

For example, in Changsha, which was my headquarters for 
a while, I had been under the impression that Changsha was 
more representative of the dialect of Hunan, being the capital 
of the province, but soon I realized that wasn't the case. I 
had assumed that Changsha had voiced stops [b, d, g] (as in 
French) , but actually it had only the so-called voiceless lenes 
stops, the soft articulation—sort of "b" "d" "g" but not 
really "b" "d" "g." 

That was true of Changsha, but in the majority—at least 
in the western parts of Human province, they had really voiced 
initials, as fully voiced as in French. 

Then in another district, one man was asked where he was 
from; his district was on the west side of Hunan province, 
what would be called ch ' ien ch'eng in Mandarin. I asked where 
he was from he said [d^ien dzsn] , with a fully voiced [dz.] 

*See my field work on the Chinese dialects, Computational 
Analyses of Asian and African Languages. Tokyo 1975. 


Chao: and [dz]. So, we got fairly good representatives from each 
district we went to. 

The only drawback, as I was saying, is that it's hard 
to get people who were literate but who spoke naturally 
the native dialect; we often got students who were too young 
to know some of the tradition. Some of them were under the 
impression that I was a representative of the minister of 
education surveying the status of the spread of Mandarin, 
so they tried to approximate Mandarin speech. But I quickly 
told them that that wasn't my job. 

Schneider: Why was it useful for you to have a literate person? 


Schneider : 




I would want to duplicate that sort of thing that Karlgren 
had in the whole vocabulary. In order to reach that, I'd 
use what they called a type list, representing all possible 
initials and finals and tones. There were a whole syllabary 
to ask them. In some cases, of course, you had to tell them, 
"This word, as in..." such and such a compound. 

So being literate was a means for you to have them reproduce 
sounds that you wanted to have? 


I still would like to pursue that a little bit. Was the 
function of being literate that they had a larger vocabulary 
than a peasant or that they could read a character that you 
presented, so that you got their speech uncontaminated by any 
pronunciation that you might use? 

The use of characters is just to be able to cover all the 
possibilities of the initial consonants involved, and tones. 
If I could stay in each place long enough, of course, I could 
acquire a working knowledge of the dialect, talk with them, 
and then try to reach all of the points of their phonology. 
That, of course, would take much longer. 

As a matter of fact, I did try to get a smattering of the 
dialect so as to put the informants at ease to speak their 
own rather than approximating some of what they imagined to 
be Mandarin. 

Would you estimate how long it took you to acquire a smattering 
and how long it would have taken you to acquire a working knowledg< 
of a new dialect? 






It's hard to say; it may depend upon how far away it is 
from the dialects I knew. Usually a week or so. Of course, 
I did homework before going to the place. 

A week to acquire a smattering? 


How long would it have taken you to have spoken fluently? 

That would depend on the place. If it was a place like Amoy, 
it would take me maybe two months; if it's some of the other 
dialects, it takes less time. But then, as to vocabulary— 
what you call things --there 's no limit to that. 

I'm still not quite clear technically whether you were doing 
studies or surveys. I'm not sure how important this question 
is. A survey appears, at least according to some usage, to 
have the connotation of establishing the geographical limits. 

I don't think; from the point of view of our institute, we 
were interested exactly so much in the geographical limits of 
different dialects, as in having the largest number of 
representative dialects in the country. A really complete 
geographical survey would have to involve many more places 
than we went to. 

We did find that in the eastern part of Hunan it had 
characteristics of Kiangsi province, the next province. 

Sometimes we were able to find the dividing lines—what 
we call isoglottal, lines, isoglosses, separating different 
dialects—which didn't quite follow the political divisions 
of the provinces. 

Early Recording Instruments; the Kymograph and the Spectrograph 



I'd like to ask you about the kymograph; what did it look like, 
how did it work, and was it an effective machine for phonologists? 

It was actually adapted from a physiological instrument to 
record the pulse and so forth. It was just a revolving drum 
with smoked paper over it with a needle. The speaker would 


Chao: speak into a tube activating this tiny little diaphragm which 
moved the needle with a feather-light point touching the 
paper. So, as the drum revolved, then the sound waves would 
be recorded. The result was a recording of the actual sound 
wave s . 

It's very hard to read sound waves as such because the 
ear integrates sound and perceives pitch by the frequency and 
perceives quality even more delicately by the overtones. 

RL: You mentioned smoked paper. Does that mean a dark paper? 

Chao: Actually, it's a loose smoke so that the feather-like tip would 
be able to make marks on it. 

RL: How do you store something as fragile as that? 

Chao: I don't remember. I think it was with Stephen Jones I learned 
about those things; the paper was smoked shortly before actual 

RL? How? 

Chao: I don't remember that burning something and the smoke blown 
onto it. 

Schneider: In other words, there was a light film of carbon on the surface. 

Chao: Yes, that's right. Any place you touched would make a mark 
on it. Only a feather-light touch would make a mark. 

RL: So that the result — the writing, as you might say—would also 
be extremely fragile. 

Chao: Yes. You could fix it with some liquid or take a photograph 
of it. With the later spectrograph — the spectrograph I was 
using in the phonetic lab here, I haven't used it for quite 
a while—that is more permanent when it's done; there's no 
need to fix it I don't think. You have your whole picture 
right away. It takes less space too, because it integrates the 
sound wave. 

RL: How big, roughly, was the kymograph? 

Chao: The kymograph would be about 18" wide and 6" high, so you don't 


Chao: get much on--maybe a couple of words on a cylinder. Whereas, 

with the spectrograph, you can have a whole sentence, or a 
couple of sentences on a cylinder. 

RL: Were any useful results achieved with the kymograph, did you 


Chao: Well, for quite a number of years, practical phoneticians 

didn't find too much use for the kymograph. 

The only exception was the work of Liu Fu. His name 
as a poet is Liu Pan-nung, but his name as a phonetician is 
Liu Fu. In his dissertation at the Sorbonne, he was the first 
to record on the kymograph the four tones of Mandarin. Then, 
of course, you could count the number of waves for each second 
and so forth and find out how the tones went. 

RL: Was his discovery well received in France? 

Chao: Yes, it was well received, except that the French, perhaps, 

didn't realize how important those four tones were for the 
Chinese. From a linguistic point of view, they are so much 
part of the word as vowels, consonants and vowels. Whereas, 
from a western point of view, tones seem to be something 
added extra because you use pitch of the voice for expression 
rather than as constituent parts of words. 

Later—much later—when the spectrograph was used, you 
began to be able to read the sounds because a spectrograph 
was an integrating instrument which showed you the actual 
intervals and the frequencies and sometimes the accompanying 
overtones to some extent, so that it was possible to learn to 
read the sounds from a spectrograph but not from a kymograph. 

The spectrograph was developed in England—University of 
London. I've forgotten the names of some of those people 
there; they were used, and later taken over by the Bell 
Telephone labs here. They use the spectrograph. 

Schneider: Did you use the spectrograph in your own work? 

Chao: I did for a while, yes, when I was doing experimental work. 

As I was saying, the first study of the four tones of Mandarin 
was done on a kymograph. 


Schneider: What about in your own personal studies? 

Chao: I didn't do any studies with the kymograph. I just learned 

to practice with it under my teachers, but I didn't use it 

Schneider: I also take it that, in order to use these things, the 

subjects being studied — the informants --would have to come 
to the kymograph; it sounds like it might have been a little 
too clumsy to move about, is that true? 



Schneider: So, in other words, for field work-- 
Chao: It's not so practical. 


RL: What sort of equipment did you use in your interviews? 

Chao: In the very beginning, we used wax cylinders; later, we had 
tape recorders. But we had to carry our own power supply 
because in most of the places there would be no electricity. 

Schneider: The wax cylinders operated on spring power, did they? 
Chao: That's right. You wound them up. 
Schneider: How early did tape recorders come? 

Chao: I think it was in the early 1930s, or even in the 1920s because 
I went to Canton in 1929 and I think I used a tape recorder. 

Schneider: Was it actually tape as we have here, or was it wire? I 
remember an old wire recorder. 

Chao: I did use that for a year or so, but I didn't like it. 

Schneider: Very messy. And you carried dry cells with you to power these 

Chao: Yes. 


RL: There must have been a tremendous amount of equipment then? 
Chao: Yes, a lot of weight. 

RL: How did you manage? I assume you came by train to the main 
area; then what happened from there? 

Chao: We usually tried to bring people in, or people were already 
there who came from different parts of the province. In the 
Kiangsi [province], I did go way down to Kanchow [city] in 
southern Kiangsi; it's way down there, and the communication 
was somewhat difficult. 

RL: Could you give us a description of exactly what was involved 
in using a wax cylinder? How did you start out? How was the 
equipment set up and what was your power source, and approximately 
how much space was needed? 

Chao: One of those recorders was about the size of this typewriter 
[about 15" square]. There was a microphone to speak to, and 
as it turned, the stylus would make waves on the cylinder. 
Then the player would play from the wax cylinder. After a 
certain number of times, it would wear out the wax to use it. 

RL: About how many times could you play it? 

Chao: You could play it maybe a couple of hundred times before it 
completely wore out. 

RL : How were these powered? Was it by springs or electricity? 

Chao: Let me see, I remember carrying batteries and a hand-operated 
charger. We'd employ people to operate the charger. 

RL: How long would it take to recharge your batteries? 

Chao: An hour or so. 

RL: They would have to turn a handle all that time? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: Yes. [Laughter] Then after the wax cylinder, you used wire. 

Chao: Wire, very briefly; we quickly changed to discs. At first, 
there were only aluminum discs, not coated, and some of the 


Chao: earlier discs got rusted and were very, very noisy. Recently 
I had all the discs transferred to tape again, but not until 
they were somewhat rusted; so they're rather noisy. 

In fact, that recording of Chang Hsueh-liang's voice 
when he kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek in Sian [city]--I recorded 
his voice in Nanking and that was on an aluminum disc. Now, 
when it's transferred to tape, it sounds very scratchy. 

RL : You recorded it from the radio, did you? 

Chao: From the radio, yes. 

RL: What was your reaction to the news? 

Chao: People were upset. I was in Shanghai, and everybody thought 
it was the "mosquito" newspapers that created the rumor, but 
when we went back to Nanking, we found that the news was true; 
I was able to record Chang Hsiieh-liang's voice. I remember 
he said, "Wo Hsiao-liang"; in his dialect—northeastern dialect- 
he pronounced his name Hsiao-liang. And there was a big 
celebration after the release of the Generalissimo. 

Schneider: Excuse me, but what is a"mosquito" newspaper? [Laughter] 
Chao: A small newspaper that usually put in a lot of sensational- 
Schneider: Tabloid. 
Chao: Tabloid, yes. 

Schneider: I take it that you have tried to save your discs and recordings 
from those days? 

Chao: Yes. All the old discs have been transferred to tape. 

Schneider: Do you have any of the original recording equipment as well? 

Chao: I'm not sure; there may be some in Taiwan. I don't remember. 

RL: After the aluminum discs, then you went to the regular-- 

Chao: Coated discs. The coated disc could keep, unless you played 
them too often. After the coated disc, we have been using 
tape all the time. 


Schneider: Technically, the coated disc is of what constitution? 

Chao: Some sort of material that prevents most scratches, very 
little actual noise. I've forgotten what the material is 
on the aluminum. 

Schneider: So it's aluminum coated with something. 

Chao: Yes. Now there is a problem of preservation of sound archives 
because the coated discs won't last forever if you play them, 
and the tape will also deteriorate after a certain time--a 
number of years. To prolong the thing, you have to re-record 
from the coated disc once after a number of years. Still, 
that wouldn't last forever; so theoretically, there's a limit 
to that even. 

The only really permanent recording would be to take 
down the sound waves from one of the recordings and have the 
formula preserved, and then reconstruct the sound waves from 
the formula. But no practical technique has yet been invented 
for doing that. 




Did you have assistance in your dialect studies? 

Yes, a lot of assistance. 

About how large would your team have been? 

In Hupeh, the survey of Hupeh, we had three. Usually one or 

two. Yang Shih-feng, who was my teaching assistant at 

Tsinghua [university] back in the 1920s (now in Academia 

Sinica) has been with me the longest. He's still working on 

his survey of the Szechuan dialect or dialects. [Published since.] 

Were some of your assistants your students? 

Yes, some were my students; some were graduates from other 
universities who would be called in to assist me in the 


Was this considered part of their academic curriculum? 











Yes. It would be something similar to an instructorship. 

You mentioned several times the problem of choosing your 
informants. I would like to hear more about that, and perhaps 
you could tell me what sort of material you encouraged them 
to speak. Was it everyday conversational, or did you try to 
be (as you, I think, suggested) encyclopedic and cover all 
the possible sounds in the dialect? 

I think most of the—practically all of our informants were 
literate, so it was possible to give them a list of the 
characters. If they would say they didn't know that 
character, we'd explain the meaning and see if he could 
pronounce something which sounded plausibly like the pronuncia 
tion of that character. 

We usually asked them to tell the story of "The North 
Wind and the Sun," giving the Mandarin version or the classical 
version of the story so as to have connected speech. 

Is that a well-known folk tale? 

It's used very much in China by dialect students. 

Why is it used? 

I suppose because it's used in Le Maitre Phonetique a good 
deal, the British journal of phonetics. I think they have 
modernized their name. It's called the Journal of the Inter 
national Phonetic Association now, and it's printed in ordinary 
orthography; all the articles used to be printed in the IPA 
[International Phonetic Alphabet] notation. 

This was then an international technique? 


Does anybody know which country the story originated in? 

I thought it was a Greek story. I don't remember. 

How long did you normally spend on one of your study trips? 

It depended; usually I would spend a month or two. Of course, 
going to the southwest took longer--Kwantung and Kwangsi. 


RL: Again, to ask a very concrete sort of question, what sort of 
physical bulk of material did a trip like that result in, 
when you were using wax cylinders? 

Chao: Besides my own baggage, I think I would have three or four 

boxes of things, so I usually had help to move things along. 

RL: How did you plan your trip? How did the time break down in 
terms of doing a study of this sort? How much preliminary 
work would you do before arriving in the area, and what would 
you do actually in the area, and how much time would it take 
you to produce the study from the materials you collected? 

Chao: It took at least several months before we felt ready to go 

on one of these trips. After coming back—well, as a matter 
of fact, some of the stuff still hasn't been written up; most 
of it has been written up; it's usually done within a year or 
two. After too long, I forget what my notations meant. 

RL: How much time did you spend with your average speaker? 

Chao: An hour or two. Sometimes he was asked to come more than once; 
after an hour or two, the speaker is usually tired. 

RL: How many speakers did you require? 

Chao: For one place, I would try to get at least two to compare any 
differences; in some places, within the same city, there will 
be two varieties, as in my own hometown there are two types 
of speech and different tone-sounding patterns too. 

RL: You published something that is translated in English as 
"Questionnaires for Dialectal Surveys." Did these follow 
international usage, or were they designed or adapted by 
you for problems peculiar to Chinese dialects? 

Chao: I did add some adaptations for purposes of transcribing Chinese 

RL: We talked earlier about the Yao and Tibetan songs that you 

worked on. Did they have a particular place in your dialect 

Chao: No; they were rather separate studies. In the Yao, I was 

actually also studying the Chinese dialects in that region, 


Chao: but in the case of the Tibetan it happened that a Tibetan 
in Peking knew many of those songs by heart. 

RL : What was Liu Pan-nung's role in planning these studies? 

Chao: He himself did some dialect surveys in the northwest, in 

Shanshi, I think, but he wasn't very active in the dialect 
studies. He was teaching in the Peking University. He was 
interested in phonetics and phonology. He was the first man 
to have made a kymograph record of the four tones of Mandarin. 
He got his Es-lettres in the College de France. 

RL: Did you have many discussions with him on your work? 
Chao: Not very much, but occasionally. 

RL: What were the grounds for choosing the dialects in the order 

in which you studied them? I've got the order down as Kiangsu, 
Chekiang, Kwantung, Kwangsi, Anhwei, Kiangsi, Hunan, and Hupeh. 
Is that the right order? 

Chao: Yes. That was really more practical convenience than any 
theoretical order. 

RL: Nothing to do with the importance of the dialect or the 
population in those areas? 

Chao : No . 

RL: What interviewing techniques did you find particularly useful 
in working on your dialect studies? 

Chao: Most important is to put the informant at his ease, to talk 

freely in his dialect. Of course, we often had to revise our 
list of question to ask. Occasionally, though not very often, 
we'd go to the same place twice after studying the first 
records; we'd find what we missed and add more items. 

RL: Did you find that you had to change your word lists from one 
dialect area to another? 

Chao: We occasionally found it necessary to add some items; some 

elements which were not relevant, we'd just skip them. Some 
words which were common everyday words in one dialect would 
be obsolete or just unknown to the speaker of another dialect. 










One disadvantage we had was that we weren't able to get 

as many aged people to speak as we would have liked. It was 

usually the student class, and they were subject to later 

influences perhaps not so representative of the general 

Was this 'a problem of literacy? How would you define the 
difficulties in getting older people? 

We just didn't find enough contacts to get those aged people 
to come to us. It would be useful to have illiterate people 
as our informants; then, of course, we couldn't give them 
lists of characters to read but would have to ask them as 
much in their dialect as possible to say certain things-- 
"what do you call this, what do you call that?" 

Why do you think it was that you couldn't get in touch with 
these older, literate people? 

Perhaps we were just in too much of a hurry to go from place 
to place without making preparations long enough ahead to 
make those contacts. 

When you went into a new place, how did you make your contacts? 

We usually went to some office in the educational world—maybe 
the commissioner of education of the province. 

Were these people likely not to be natives of that province, 
to be sent from Nanking? 

On the whole, in the districts, the people were mostly local 
people. There was an older rule--I think during the earlier 
dynasties — that a native of a place couldn't be mayor of that 
place, but I don't think that's a rule any longer. 

So you worked primarily through government education offices. 

If you could go back, what, if anything, would you do differently? 

We would construct better type lists and better forms and better 
equipment and perhaps record more free conversation. Of course, 
in the case of free conversation, you'd need at least two to 
talk with each other. 











Did you know of Granet's* work on songs of ancient China? 

Yes, I did follow it somewhat; I've forgotten what I got out 
of it. I heard some of his lectures there in France. 

Did you find his work helpful and impressive? 

It didn't have too much to do with what I was doing. With 
him it was more philological. 

How were your studies funded? 

Most of my dialect studies were part of the undertakings of 
Academia Sinica, the Institute of History and Philology under 
Academia Sinica. 

What was felt to be the importance of them? They must have 
been quite expensive, and there was a shortage of funds in 

Yes. It was felt that that was the proper thing for a modern 
institution to undertake --the study of how things are besides 
how things were. 

What did you feel was the historical importance of your 
studies in phonetics? Was it useful, for instance, in 
elucidating texts? 

I'm not aware that it contributed to elucidating any texts. 

Do you feel that there was any sort of interplay between your 
dialect studies and historical concerns with the political 
polemics that were going on? 


Is there anything else you'd like to say about the dialect 

The only thing is that still some of that hasn't been written 
up, although some of it was done by my successors. Like 
Szechuan--! didn't go to Szechuan and that still has to be done, 

*Marcel Granet, Fetes et chansons anciennes de la Chine. Paris 
E. Leroux, 1929. 







There's a lot of material collected but not written up yet. 

Are your records, which are not written up, in Taiwan at 
Academia Sinica? 


Do you think somebody else could write it up from those records? 

This Szechuan thing actually was surveyed by S.F. Yang who 
went on the trip; he's the best man to write it up. Recently 
he completed a series of dialect surveys of Hunan. I wrote 
the introduction for him on that.* 

I gather your wife came with you on some of these trips. 

She did, yes, on some trips. She went with me to Canton; she 
didn't go to Kwangsi--or she didn't go all the way that time 
on the dialect survey; she went there later. 

*Yang Shih-feng, Report on a Survey of the Dialects of Hunan. 
Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 
1974, vii + map + 1447 pp. + 52 maps. 



Teaching and Studying at Harvard. 1921-1924 

RL: Today I'd like to talk about your experience in America in 
the '20s and '30s. 

Chao: That's quite a few years.' [Laughter] 

RL: In 1921 you came back to Harvard after your year in China, 

and you came back married. Perhaps you'd like to talk about 
your marriage? 

Chao: We knew each other during that year I went back to China from 
America. While I was interpreting for Bertrand Russell, at 
other moments, that was the time of my courting. Buwei was 
running a hospital of her own. We found a lot of common 
interests, so we decided to get married. We were against the 
old tradition by which marriage is arranged by people in the 
family. Also, there is--as there is everywhere—elaborate 
ceremony; we dispensed with all ceremony and just got married. 
At the moment we were married, actually we were in the post 
office sending notices to friends. 

We just moved to a place in the northeastern part of Peking. 
That place is still there; we visited it last year, in '73, 
and the house is still there, one of the few places that haven't 
been changed . 

Two of our friends (Hu Shih, my schoolmate, and Dr. Chu 
Cheng, whom she calls Sister Hsiang; they were schoolmates in 
studying medicine) were witnesses to sign our marriage contract 
because our friends advised us that to make it legal, you should 



Chao: have at least two witnesses, and forty cents of stamp tax. 
[Laughter] So that was what made it legal. 

RL: It sounds very much like today's "arrangements." 

Chao: Yes. We meant to simplify things; actually, we went into more 
complications, because after that, we wanted to invite our 
friends and, instead of having just one big party and being 
done with it, we had many small parties, although they're 
more enjoyable. 

Was your wife as progressive and outgoing then as she is now? 

Chao: I think she's always been that way. She was a revolutionist 
at home. She had a very liberal grandfather, who was a lay 
Buddhist scholar; although her father and mother were more 
conservative, but the upper generation was liberal. 

Also, in the case of my earlier engagement to a relative, 
I tried to break it in order to be able to marry. It was a 
great uncle of mine who finally broke the engagement for me. 
Somehow it seems that liberalism occurred by alternate 



RL: When you were engaged-- 

Chao: Oh, that was long, long before I went to America; that means 

before 1910, and hardly with my knowledge. Meanwhile, I wrote 
home from America trying to break it, but they didn't pay 
enough attention to what I wanted to do or what I wanted to 

RL: Did you find it psychologically restrictive that you had this 

Chao: Yes. Although I was revolutionary-minded, somehow I felt that 

I was engaged and that was that. So that in my dating girlfriends, 
the result was a sort of reservation. 

I don't know whether I told you that in the case of my 
wife, she was engaged before she was born, to a cousin, with 
the condition, of course, that the two children born would be 
of different sexes. [Laughter] They turned out to be of 
different sexes, so they were engaged. 


RL: In spite of having a liberal grandfather; this was done by 

her parents. Did she also find it a psychological restriction 
on her? 

Chao: I don't remember, but she had that engagement broken quite a 
few years before we met. 

RL: So when you came back to Harvard, it was no longer as an 
independent scholar.' 

Chao: Before I actually returned to America, I wrote to the chairman 
of the philosophy department that I would rather spend more 
time learning than teaching. He said, "We need you at least 
to correct the papers." So I was sort of a teaching assistant, 
correcting papers in philosophy; that really helped me quite 
a lot financially to have something to do. 

I was promised subsidies by the minister of education and 
I think by Peking University, where I'd interpreted for 
Russell, but those were the years of salaries owed, and they 
didn't pay me a thing; so it was fortunate I did get something 
to get along. 

Then I was appointed instructor in philosophy and Chinese. 
I started Chinese teaching there, at the same time as Harvard 
was approaching the Charles Hall Foundation, which started 
the Harvard Yenching Institute. 

RL: I'd like to know a lot more about that. 

Chao: I can't tell you the details of the business arrangement, but 
it was a good sum of money which was enough to start an 
institute. Harvard had some cooperation later with the Yenching 
University in Peking; that's why it is called Harvard Yenching 
Institute. Leighton Stuart was, I think, at Yenching at that 
time, maybe slightly later; I don't remember exactly- -about 
that time. 

Professor J.H. Woods was most active in promoting Chinese 
studies, although he himself was no sinologist. He was 
chairman of the department. The chairman at my final examination 
was William Ernest Hocking. 

RL: So Professor Woods was chairman of the philosophy department 
at Harvard. 









Yes. He wanted to have things started in oriental studies. 
Do you know what generated his interest? 

He did go into oriental philosophy, not so much Chinese 
though; he was mostly an historian of philosophy. 

It was interesting to me to see that Harvard had some Chinese 
studies for a short while in the nineteenth century. 

Yes. It lasted a few years and then stopped until it resumed 
in the twentieth century. 

How much was Mr. Woods' interest encouraged or generated by 
missionary interests in China? 

I don't think he had very much contact with people in the 
missionary field. To be sure, Yenching University was a 
typical missionary university in China. 

How would you describe a typical missionary university? 

It was run under missionary funds. They made the study of the 
Christian religion an important part of the curriculum, 
although you didn't have to be a Christian in order to enter 
the university. I would say they were among the liberal-minded 
of the missionaries. 

Were they congregationalists? 

I don't remember. Possibly, they were non-denominational, but 
it was a Christian missionary university. 

Which were the less liberal? How do you feel that the spectrum 
of liberal to less liberal amongst the missionary universities 
or institutions went in China? 

In some places, like St. Johns in Shanghai, I think they put 
more emphasis on religion, at least they did when St. Johns 
was situated in Shanghai. And Soochow University. Perhaps 
it isn't so much the difference between different universities 
as between different periods of time. As time went on, they 
were more liberal and they put more emphasis on Chinese studies 
and emphasized the interpretation of one culture from the point 
of view of the other culture. 












As you're thinking about it now, when would you say the shift 
started to occur from less liberal to more liberal? 

It was a rather gradual process; it was not until after the 
republican revolution—the twenties and thirties. 

What denomination was St. Johns? 

I think it was Episcopal; I'm not sure. 

And Soochow? 

Soochow I don't remember. 

How about the Catholic institutions? 

The Catholic universities were more orthodox than the 

Back to Professor Woods, was this virtually a one-man effort 
to get Chinese studies back into Harvard? 

There was James Ware, although he was more involved in the 
academic side than the business aspect of starting the thing. 
When the course in Chinese first opened, I had three students 
of whom Professor Woods was one [laughter] and one Russian 
student [Roerich] and a third student, Charles Gardner (son 
of the prominent Gardners of Boston). 

What was his father known for? 

He was active in things cultural in Boston. 

How did you handle a class of that sort--just three people? 

I think I conducted the class in the usual way. Of course, 
in a matter of language, there are a lot of exercises. 

What were the students interested in? 

They were interested in all aspects of the language. I approached 
it in the usual way by introducing them first to the spoken 
language and then went on to the written language, with the 
ultimate object of reading in the literary form in characters. 
This was 1921. Then in 1938, I started at Hawaii — another class- 
purely in the literary form. 












At this time, were they interested in studying classical 

Yes, they were, but I followed the usual procedure of starting 
with the colloquial first. 

I'm not sure that's done even to this day in some English 
universities, where I think they start with character studies-- 
purely written. 

Of course, there's a difference; even if you use characters 
only, whether you join the characters to form the modern 
colloquial or to form the classical. You can do it either 

Which did you do? 

At first, I used the modern colloquial. 

At this time--1921--did you have, at least in your head, an 
established standard of speech? 

It was in the early 1910s that there was an artificial 
standard of standard Mandarin, the so-called national 
pronunciation. But there was a strictly defined form of 
standard which lasted until--! don't remember exactly what 
year — in the early or late 1920s, when they reverted to the 
natural speech of Peking as the standard. 

So were you working with the artificial standard that was 

set up in 1910, or did you make your own sensible modifications 

of this? 

I think I already started using the unmodified Peking pronuncia 
tion as the standard that was either made official or at least 
understood by those members of the Ministry of Education who 
were in favor of changing back to the natural speech of Peking. 
And to this day, it is still the same standard; they changed 
the term, called p'u-t 'ung hua. which means ordinary speech. 
The term p 'u-t 'ung hua used to mean something like that blue- 
green undefined northern type of speech, but now they've 
defined it as the standard. They make the pronunciation of 
Peking the standard. That hasn't been changed since the 1920s, 
to this day; still the pronunciation of Peking is the standard. 









That's a tremendous achievement. You probably were the 
single person, I would guess, who had most influence on this; 
would you agree with that? 

At least I've always been active in it, but as you know, the 
first set of records I made was in that artificial system, 
so I did change my mind, as others have changed theirs. 

You said that you used the ordinary methods of teaching 
Chinese, but at that time, I think there was very little 
teaching of Chinese to western students. Harvard was one 
of the places where this was pioneered. I'm interested in 
what texts you used. 

I made up texts at first, because there wasn't a suitable 
elementary text for the very first beginners. It was only 
later that I composed texts to be published; that was quite 
a number of years afterwards — the Harvard series Mandarin 
Primer and the records to go with that. 

I understand that you were there teaching Chinese for two 
years, 1922 to 1924; is that correct? 

Yes. I was at Harvard for three years but didn't teach 
Chinese the first year. 

Did you keep the same three students for two years? 

Yes. [Laughter] 

And how much progress had they made? 

They learned something. Of the three, Gardner later became 
a sinologist himself. I lost track of the Russian student, 
and Professor Woods was too busy to concentrate on Chinese. 

Did other people join in "23 as beginners? Did you get more 

I don't remember; I think those were the only students. But 
the course was kept up afterwards when I left. I've forgotten 
whether students came after. 


Was it K.T. Mei who was your successor? 









That's right, yes. He's one of the classicists opposed to 
the vernacular literature movement, but of course he was a 
thoroughly competent Chinese scholar. 

Do you know if he changed the method of instruction? 

I think in those days I followed more or less the traditional 
method of explaining the text in English and translating the 
text, although I did put more emphasis on students reading 
aloud from the text. 

As I was telling you, when I studied second-year German, 
everything was translated into English, and you hardly would 
hear a whole sentence of German the whole semester. The 
teacher himself was a born German [laughter], but he just 
followed the usual American custom rather than the custom 
they had on the continent. 

Going back to the funding of the Harvard Yenching, I'm not 
familiar with the Charles Hall Foundation; did it have other 
interests in Chinese studies? Do you know why they were 

I'm afraid I can't tell you; I haven't followed it very closely. 

Harvard, I think, did already have quite a considerable 
library, didn't it, of Chinese materials? 

At that time, not too rich; it did have some. It acquired 
more in later years. 

How did you feel about the official attitude of Harvard to 
Chinese studies? Harvard has a reputation of being quite 

I think it was well received. If it had a traditional attitude, 
people there probably thought that studying an ancient culture 
would be the right thing to do. 

How about the Chinese art collection, which now, of course, is 
a remarkable one—was that already well established? 

No. My impression is that it was a little later; I wouldn't 
be sure. That was an independent activity. 
















Were you ever consulted on this at all? 

Only casually—not really. 

Were you ever asked to help in purchasing for the library? 

Yes, what books to get. 

Did you do much of that? 

No, not very much—occasionally. 

Then, while you were in America from 1921 to 1924, I believe 
that you were establishing your ties with some of the 
laboratories and pursuing technical studies in electronics 
and acoustics. 

I don't remember whether it was during that period or later. 

Were you aware of what else was going on in Chinese studies 
in America at this period --Columbia, Yale, Cornell? 

At Yale, there wasn't much until shortly before World War II. 
At Chicago, there were some classical studies, and California 
had Chinese studies. During my stay in 1919, I spent one 
semester at Berkeley, and they had Chinese studies, teaching 
classical Chinese. Ferdinand Lessing was teaching then. 

Was [E.T.] Williams here at that time, or later? 

I don't remember. There was Kiang [Kang-ku]; he was one of 
these teachers. 

Would you care to make a guess at how many people were studying 
Chinese in American universities in the early twenties --how 
many students? 

To make a wild guess, I would say not over one hundred altogether. 
Were your first two daughters born in America? 

Yes, in Cambridge, Mass. They were both born in the Boston area. 
In '24, we went to Europe for a year, and that is why my second 
daughter, Nova, had her first language in French. The funny 
thing is that after we went back to China for a while, she 
forgot her French and we were all advocating the use of the 




national language. When we came back to America, and she 
entered Radcliffe and had an American teacher teaching 
French, she spoke French with an American accent. [Laughter] 

Did she object to this? 

She couldn't tell, by that time, about French. 

Meetings with European Scholars. 1924-1925; Karlgren. Pelliot. 
Giles, and Others 





I'd like to talk today about your impressions of some of the 
scholars whom you met while you were traveling in Europe in 
1924 and 1925. Perhaps we could start with Bernhard Karlgren? 

I think you asked me when I first came into contact with him. 
It was in 1921 that I came across his magnum opus Phonologie 
Chinoise, and that seemed to make quite an impression. It 
took three of us to translate that book into Chinese. On the 
whole, I think the Chinese phonologists agreed with his 
conclusions—the reconstruction of ancient Chinese of 601 A.D.-- 
the Chinese call that "Middle Chinese" whereas in Western usage, 
Middle Chinese is later and the Chinese of 601 A.D. was called 
ancient. But in Chinese usage, ancient meant Chou Dynasty, 
way back. 

Were there other Chinese scholars who knew of his work at 
this time? 

In those days, those with chief interest in it were Fang-kuei Li, 
who is now at Taipei (one of my co-translators), and Lo Ch'ang-pei 
(the third translator). Ch'ien Hsiian-t'ung himself didn't 
read English very fluently; he knew the work more or less 
indirectly, although he himself was quite an authority in 
Chinese phonology. 

Li Ch'in-hsi was active in the Unification of the Language 
Movement that also had interest in these things. 


Schneider: Did you and Li Fang-kuei and the others who knew of Karlgren's 

work learn of it overseas or had the book gotten to China before 
you translated it? 

Chao: Yes. 

Schneider: So it was being circulated some time, at least, before you 
translated it? 


Schneider : 





I wouldn't call it "circulated" because there weren't that 
many copies, but yes, amongst the phonologists , we knew it 
and studied it carefully. 

So someone had brought it from Europe? I'm wondering how it 
got there; it's kind of a mystery. [Laughter] 

Yes. I've forgotten the exact circumstances under which it 
got there; possibly he sent a copy to one of the institutions 
there. He had lived in Shansi province for some time. In 
fact, the very first time I met him, he conversed with me in 
Chinese with a slight Shansi accent. But when we started 
discussing theoretical phonology, he said, "Let's switch into 
English; we'll be more comfortable." 

Was his spoken Chinese quite good? 

Yes. His accent was good—as I was saying, with a slight 
Shansi accent. That was in Gothenburg when I first met him, 
some years later after we translated his book. 

Just a small technical point. On the translation, in your 
autobiography, I think you have a publication date of 1948; 
in your bibliography, it appears to be 1940. Do you remember 
when it was actually published? 

I think, because of the war, it was delayed somewhat. As a 
matter of fact, it was done much earlier than that. I think 
becuase of the war with Japan, it was quite delayed. My 
translation of Through the Looking Glass* was also delayed 
because that was when the Commercial Press was burned down 

*Tzoou Daw Jingtz Lit. Shanghai, 1938, burned during the war 
with Japan, republished in San Francisco, 1968, as Vol. 2 of 
Sayable Chinese, currently available through Spoken Language 
Services, Inc., Ithaca, N.Y. , 1974. 


Chao: entirely, during the war. 
RL: Would that have been in 1938? 

Chao: That was in-- '37 the so-called Marco Polo incident that began 
the war with Japan, and '38 was when Japan invaded Shanghai. 

RL: As I understand it--and I'm sure you know much more about 
this than I do, Larry—there was considerable controversy 
about Karlgren's work and its application to the dating of 
the Tso Chuan commentaries. 

Chao: Yes. I haven't followed that very much, but there was quite 
a difference of opinion. 

Schneider: I'm wondering if you have some feeling as to when his work on 
the Tso Chuan really entered into the scholarly debates in 

Chao: I don't remember; I haven't followed that kind of study myself. 

RL: What was Karlgren like? 

Chao: He was very approachable, almost like a Chinese scholar. 

Schneider: How do you mean? 

Chao: Quiet and not very dogmatic about whatever he was saying. 

RL: Do you know what turned his interest to China? 

Chao: I have no idea what started his concentration on Chinese studies. 

Schneider: Did he teach there at all, in the sense of holding seminars? 

Chao: Yes. He was teaching at the University of Gothenburg at first. 
It was only later that he went to Stockholm. 

Schneider: When he was in China, did he do any teaching, formally or 

Chao: I don't remember whether he did any teaching there. 

Schneider: Did Chinese scholars who were interested in his specialty pay 
visits to him specifically to talk over problems when he was 
in China? 


Chao: In fact, I never heard about Karlgren [laughter] when he was 
in China, not until he published his work. 

Schneider: Do you think that might have been generally the case, that 

people didn't really hear about him in China until after he'd 
gone back and published this work? 

Chao: That's right. 

RL: What made you decide to translate Phonologie Chinoise? 

Chao: We thought it was the first attempt at a detailed phonetic 

interpretation of the phonology, because most of the Chinese 
work on what we call "rhyme books" (actually dictionaries), 
were more or less on the basis of abstract sort of algebra 
rather than arithmetic. Karlgren would actually give you the 
real numerical values of the various abstract terms. 

Schneider: Did it appear to you at the time that this would be a 

foundation to build future phonological or perhaps more 
general linguistic studies in China? 

Chao: There was interest from another point of view in connection 
with the Unification of the Language Movement, and also by 
contact with British phoneticians. That more or less ran 
parallel with this interest in the phonetic values of the 
phonological abstract terms. 

Schneider: May I ask at this point, just to get a better feeling of the 
problem, how generally you perceived its value in the 
Unification of the Language Movement? 

Chao: I don't think Karlgren 's work had any particular relation 

with the Unification Movement. In fact, many people who were 
active in the Unification Movement didn't concern themselves 
very much with ancient Chinese, although I personally believe 
that it would be of interest from the point of view of relating 
the dialects to Mandarin; a study of the systems of ancient 
dialects would be helpful. 

Actually, some of those what we call "type lists" for 
dialect study were arranged according to Chinese traditional 
classifications: such-and-such ancient Chinese initials and 
rhymes would go into such-and-such modern pronunciation. 










You're suggesting that it seemed useful to you to provide 
some medium to get from a dialect into kuo-yli. 


In this way, you did use Karlgren's work a little bit in 
your dialect studies? 

On the whole, for the dialect work, it was enough to use the 
traditional classifications of classics since we had to go 
into the field and ask people how they actually pronunced 
words without regard to theory as to how they were pronounced. 

Many of the people in historical phonological studies and 
the dialect surveys were different sets; there's some over 
lapping, but some were concerned only with one and some the 

How did you share the work as translators of Karlgren with 
C.P. Lo and Fang-kuei Li? 

Fang-kuei Li translated some parts of it; I don't remember 
which. As for Lo, he didn't know French too well, so in 
some of the parts of the work, I would use—let's see, we had 
to use a dictaphone on wax cylinders because there were no 
disc recorders yet. I read the French into Chinese, and Lo 
would write it in more organized sentences. 

What a tremendous job! What nationality was Karlgren? 

He was Swedish. 

Why did he write in French? 

I think there was a tradition of French sinology with [Paul] 
Pelliot and others. Certainly, few people would be able to 
read Chinese phonology written in Swedish. 1 

Is there anything else you'd like to say about Karlgren? 

That is about all I can recall, except later I tried to visit 
him; that was quite a few years later, in 1954, I think it 
was. I made an appointment to see him. He said he would be 
out of town on a certain day, and I thought he said he would 
be in town [laughter]; I went and he wasn't there. 


Chao: On another occasion, going to an organizing meeting of 

sinologists in Copenhagen, I think it was, where many 
sinologists from different countries met. Karlgren was 
supposed to have gone, but he was sick and couldn't go 
there. I made a telephone call to him from there. 

RL: Then you mentioned Heinitz—Wilhelm Heinitz, and this very 

much interested [Wolfram] Eberhard because of Heinitz 1 interest 
in what we now call ethnic music. What did you discuss with 

Chao: I didn't talk very much with him, mostly on general problems 

of phonetics. I corresponded with him. 

RL : Were you impressed with his laboratory at Hamburg? 

Chao: It was quite a good supply of instruments. In those days, it 

was one of the centers of phonetic studies. 

RL: Did you find his experiences or his technique valuable for 

the work that you were planning to do? 

Chao: I think his work was more directed at description of the 

actual sounds of language and analyses of them. It was about 
that time or slightly later that people talked more about 
phonemics than phonetics; phonemics would be one step nearer 
the formation of words from sounds. 

Schneider: You're suggesting that he did not attempt to make that step? 

Chao: Did not, no. I think it was Daniel Jones who coined the word 

"phoneme" but I'm not sure. 

RL: Stephen Jones? 

Chao: No, Daniel Jones. Stephen Jones was strong in experimental 


RL: What did that mean at that period? 

Chao: Stephen had more to do with phonetics in Heinitz 1 way. 

RL: Where did you find the best technology? 

Chao: It's hard to say. Germany and France, of course--Rousselot was 


Chao: among the earliest making recordings of sound waves. Then 
in England; I even forget some of the names associated with 
the experimental work there. 

There was a very free exchange of information and 
technique, because, after all, the several countries of 
northwestern Europe are only the size of a corner of the 
U.S.; they had fairly free exchange of information and 

RL: Did you find all of these people quite accessible? You say 
that Karlgren was accessible. 

Chao: Yes, most of them were quite accessible. 

RL: What about Paul Pelliot, who had such a terrible reputation? 

Chao: [Laughter] He was more formal, that's true, and in his 
lectures even more so. I think in Europe, the lecturers 

really lectured more formally than in America when the 
professor would talk with the students. 

RL: Did you have personal contact—private interviews—with 
Paul Pelliot? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: How did you arrange this? Did you have letters of introduction? 

Chao: I don't remember; I must have had, from Harvard. I think I 
had corresponded with him before too. 

RL: You say he was formal. Mr. Eberhard described him as "the 
son of a butcher who looked like one." [Laughter] 

Chao: I don't exactly know what that means as applied to Paul 

Pelliot. [Henri] Maspero was also somewhat formal, another 

Schneider: Was Maspero involved in language studies at that time? 
Chao: Yes, he was doing Chinese phonology too. 

Schneider: Had he done that before he began doing his historical writings, 
or simultaneously? 









I don't remember; that was more or less a sideline. 
Was he good enough at that to warrant your attention? 

I listened to his lectures for historical topics. For 
phonetics, I also listened to [Hubert Octave] Pernot; he was 
a phonetician. 

Was there some significant difference between the French and 
the German work at this time? Were they developing schools, 
as it were, moving in different directions? 

I think it was in England that they started that approach 
from the phonemic point of view sooner than the other places. 
As to the sinologists who were talking about sounds and 
sound classes, they didn't care too much about pronouncing 
them exactly according to their own theory even. And it 
seems that it didn't matter when they brought out the point 
clearly; it wasn't necessary to actually pronounce the 
sounds as native-like sounds. Some of them probably just 
couldn't, like that linguist [Joseph] Vendryes; he wrote 
Langages, a general treatise of language. Whenever he 
mentioned either Greek, Latin, English, German or whatever, 
everything came out with a perfect French accent. [Laughter] 
That didn't seem to matter so long as he made his points 

What was your impression of Herbert Giles? 

I just had a glimpse of him so as to be able to tell people 
that I had met Herbert Giles. A grand old man at that time; 
of course, his work—his dictionary—is still a standard 
reference from many points of view. 

Was he pleased to meet you? Was he approachable? 

I don't even remember how he received me; I cornered him just 
very briefly. 

At this time, did you know of Arthur Waley's Chinese 
translations? Did you meet him, by any chance? 

I don't think I met him. When did I first come across his 
translations? I can't tell when it was— before I went to 
Europe or after. 



I'm not sure how much he actually liked meeting Chinese 
because he didn't speak any Chinese. He never went to 

Schneider: Embarrassment. I know he never went. [Laughter] 

"Funeral Director" of the Tsing Hua Scholarship Students 
in America 






You stayed in China till 1932 with Academia Sinica? 

Yes. Then I spent one year in Washington, D.C. as director 
of Chinese students, of the Tsing Hua students. 

Why did you choose to take that particular job? Was it 
because you didn't want to take the presidency of Tsing Hua 

That was at least part of the reason; I wanted to avoid 
administration. I wanted Mr. Y.C. Mei to take the job. But 
Mr. Y.C. Mei, who was director of the Chinese students in 
Washington, hesitated about returning to China to be president 
of Tsing Hua. So I offered to take his job in Washington to 
make him go back to be president of Tsing Hua.' 

You yourself had been a student in America under those auspices? 

That's right, yes. The first time I came to America was 
under the same auspices, funded by the so-called Returned 
Indemnity, the Boxer Indemnity Fund. 

I wanted to ask you some questions about that. First of all, 
roughly how many students were you responsible for? 

By the time I was there—they called me the Funeral Director 
of that office there because we just wound up the thing after 
a year. I can't tell exactly, but I think there were less 
than fifty by that time. 

In what ways do you feel that the students of the '30s were 
different from your class—you were the second class—the 
class of 1914? 













Perhaps, on the whole, in our class (the class of 1910), 
we had more classical training in Chinese tradition than 
the later students. But in outlook, I didn't notice much 

What do you think they hoped or expected from their years of 
study in America? 

Some of them, of course, were quite ambitious and hoped to 
go back and rebuild the country. Most of them just enjoyed 
the experience and were sure that they would find interesting 
work when they went back. 

Did most of them expect to return to China, in spite of the 
difficult times? 

I think most of them did, and in those years I think they 
had to, unless for special reasons you were permitted to 
stay as residents. It was only some years later that Chinese 
could become residents when they wanted to. 

Was this a result of the American immigration laws of that 


It was not only built into the terms of the indemnity scholar 
ship, then? 


Did some of them, in fact, stay on, if not in America, in 
England or France? 

Yes, a few; not many. 

As I understand, at that time, it was very difficult for 
Chinese to get permanent academic appointments. 


Would you like to have stayed on in America at this time, do 
you think? 

Which time? 

Nineteen thirty-three. 


Chao: I had no idea. I was sort of on leave from Academia Sinica. 
Actually, I'm still on leave. [Laughter] I resigned and 
they didn't want me to resign. 

RL: That's been quite a long leave. [Laughter] Did your students 
resent the immigration laws? (When I say "your students" I 
mean the ones you were responsible for.) 

Chao: They took it for granted that it was the situation when they 

RL : In point of fact, what did you have to do, what was your 
job as "funeral director" of this program? 

Chao: I enjoyed traveling around. I learned to drive at that time. 
I'd go to the various places and vist them, and see how they 
were getting along with their studies. 

RL: Did you have the power to send any of them home if they were 
in some sort of trouble? 

Chao: Yes, if they were—but I never did. 

RL: I've never heard of any troubles, other than occasionally 
emotional troubles. Was that true in your experience? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL : How would you describe a Chinese student of this period in 
an American institution? 

Chao: I think he adapted himself very quickly to the ways of life 
of American students and mixed with American students. In 
some of the centers where there were more Chinese students, 
there would be Chinese student clubs, and there had been for 
quite a while the Chinese Student Alliance of different clubs 
all over — the eastern section, middle western section and 
the western section of the Alliance. 

They used to publish a Chinese Students' Monthly, in 
which I wrote a couple of articles during the 1910s about 
problems of Chinese language reform. 

RL: Did you write for it at all when you were director? Were 
you invited to write? 








Let me see, I don't think I wrote anything when I was director. 

Was there much pressure on the students to choose majors that 
would be "useful" to China? 

No. They were fairly free to choose what subjects they 
specialized in. On the whole, however, many of them did take 
engineering and applied sciences, but not so many the 
political science and economics. 

How about agriculture? 
There were some. 

While you were there, I know that you visited many of your 
old friends at Cambridge, and you had freedom of movement 
because you were driving. By the way, did you have any 
problems in learning to drive? 

I think the second day, I ran into somebody's car [laughter] 
although the damage was not important. On the whole, I 
had no problems, except once, driving from Niagara Falls back 
to Washington. There was a train coming and everybody in 
the car was asleep, and I was possibly half asleep because 
I hadn't noticed when that semaphore had started to swing. 
So I put a sudden step on the brake and stopped just this 
side of the tracks. But the car behind me, thinking I was 
going to cross, hit me from the back and pushed our car 
onto the tracks. Then the man sitting beside me, Sherman 
Wang, woke up and said "Go ahead, go ahead." The engine 
had stalled, but fortunately it did start and we passed by. 
It seemed just immediately after that the train came by; 
actually maybe it was ten or fifteen seconds. When I looked 
back, the car that had hit us had made a U-turn and was out 
of sight. 

We couldn't have had time to escape because the left 
side was locked with baggage tied on the side and in the rear. 
We were not free of internal injuries after that collision, 
but fortunately it was only to our things, not to ourselves. 
We couldn't find anything, but when we got to the hotel and 
opened one of the suitcases, some of the spoons were bent. 


That was a very lucky escape, 
to drive? 

Did you have someone teach you 



Yes. One of the secretaries at the Chinese Educational 
Mission—that is the office for overseeing the Chinese students- 
Mr. Ho, was one of my teachers. Another was Wensan Wang, a 
resident of Berkeley now; he's now connected with China Airlines 
from Taiwan. 


That's a frightening story. Surprising that you bent the 
spoons inside. I was about to ask you about what changes 
you noticed at Harvard and Harvard Yenching. How was their 
program going and how had it changed since you helped to 
start it in 1922? 


Mr. K.T. Mei put more emphasis on teaching classical Chinese. 
But then, of course, as the program expanded, it would cover 
all the aspects, both modern and ancient. Later, during 
World War II, there was a big project of teaching the G.I.s 
modern Chinese. 




Was there anything at all at this period, outside Chinese 
language and literature—anything in Chinese history or 
other subjects? 

Yes, there were occasional courses here and there but not on 
any large scale. 

Did you know any of the students then, and did you meet John 
Fairbank at this time? 



He was rather later, I think. I never had the chance of having 
him in my class. 

I think perhaps by this time he was in China studying. 

Linguistic Studies in America 



I started going to professional meetings of linguists when I 
began to get interested in general linguistics, at Chicago and 
Yale and Brown universities. 

Who were the leading linguists and whom did you find most 


Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield, among the men who wrote 
books under the title of "language." [Laughter] 


Chao: I enjoyed very much talking with Edward Sapir because, 

after an hour of conversation, he asked me a few questions 
about my dialect and started to talk in my dialect. [Laughter] 
I didn't see much of him until later. Bloomfield had a 
lot of influence on me, although it was mostly through his 
books . 

Bloomfield was a rather quiet person and very modest in 
his ways. I think it showed also in his writing. But he was 
very meticulous and self -consistent in his expositions. Most 
of my associates at that time more or less followed his so- 
called structural approach to language — in other words, 
describing language as it is actually spoken, and writing 
would be an instrument from which you inferred what is spoken, 
rather than an object of study in itself. That is, before 
the days of what is now called transformational grammar. He 
tried to avoid the problem of meaning. The current trend in 
emphasizing transformational grammar is that you can get at 
the meaning by transferring the form of language into another-- 
but then you have to transform them still into other forms, so 
it's still forms. Bloomfield 's claim is that all language is 
the study of form. 

That English word "form" is somewhat unfortunate and we 
have had difficulty in bringing it into Chinese because in 
Chinese you consider a word from the point of view of the 
graph, the sound and the meaning; the word "form" would seem 
to suggest a graph, whereas in American usage (especially in 
Bloomfield 's school) form means sound. Form just means sound, 
the sound of a language. 

RL: How have you tried to solve this problem? 

Chao: In writing in Chinese, I would just use the word "sound" instead 
of "form," or a paraphrase of it in some cases. 

RL: How do you feel about Bloomfield 's work now, in the context 
of your own work and of modern--contemporary--linguistic 

Chao: I don't think his approach can be described as out-of-date, 
but it's a necessary step and an important step. Whatever 
you do beyond that has to come after you've found out what 
the forms are in the language, what the structure is. Of 
course, the so-called structural linguistics is the structure 
of the forms . 










Did you then use and apply their theory? Did you find it 
valuable to you in your Chinese dialect studies? 

I did give a couple of lectures here and there. 

I understand that later your lectures became famous and 
you were very much sought-after as a lecturer. 

I don't know; I enjoyed going around giving lectures. I met 
some of the experimental phoneticians in the country, although 
in those days, Europe was more ahead in the experimental study 
of phonetics. 

There was a scheme for developing an instrument for the 
deaf to "hear" by looking at the spectrograph, but they didn't 
develop a cheap enough instrument for individuals to use. 

You mentioned a deaf acoustician. How did you get to know 

That was when I was adviser to the Bell Telephone Labs; he 
was one of their workers there. I was able to talk with him 
while he looked at the pattern that came out of the spectrograph. 

Do you know if this work has been followed up at all? 

As far as I know, they haven't developed an instrument cheap 
enough to be used generally. 

I would think that it required some very specialized abilities 
on the student's part. When were you an adviser to the Bell 
Telephone Labs? 

I think it was during World War II. That was quite a bit 

As I understand, one of the reasons you were given leave to 
come to America at this point was that you planned to set up 
your own laboratory back in Nanking. What did you find that 
was useful in America? 

At that time, because I was interested in doing dialect surveys, 
I was very much interested in buying recording equipment. Then 
they were already at the disc recorders instead of the wax 
cylinder recorders. When we had those coated discs, the recording 









would be more permanent and also with a higher fidelity 
s ound . 

What American equipment did you buy for your laboratory in 

We emphasized, of course — for purposes of the dialect survey-- 
the equipment for recording and playing back, and reproducing, 
duplicating the records. I think it was the Fairchild Company 
which had the latest form of disc recorder. I don't think we 
went as far as the spectrograph in the Nanking period. We set 
up an acoustic lab in the Institute of History and Philology, 
part of the Academia Sinica; we made it soundproof. 

In fact, I visited that room last year (1973); it has 
changed into an ordinary office. The Institute of History 
and Philology has been changed to an Institute of Archeology. 

Do you remember about how much your budget was? 

I have no idea. [Laughter] We had a fairly free hand in 
getting what we needed. 

How large was the room? You saw it last year. 

I think about twenty by thirty feet, with heavy drapery and 
double windows. 

Did you have storage problems there, keeping your materials 
under suitable conditions? 


We stored them in the basement, except those we were currently 
using. Those recordings on aluminum discs are not subject 
much to weather conditions. The only thing is that each time 
you play it, you wear some off. Later, when the tape recorder 
was invented, we transferred the disc recordings onto the tapes, 
which wouldn't wear out from playing. On the other hand, after 
a certain time, the magnetization on the tape would gradually 
lose strength. In order to get better results, you would have 
to get another copy on tape from the original. And yet, if 
you do this, you can't do it indefinitely, because each time 
you duplicate, you wear out some of it. So that, theoretically, 
there is a limit to the length of time of keeping those 
recordings. The only thing that could be permanent would be 
to have the mathematical formulae of all the sound waves; that 
could be permanent. 


RL: Have you worked on this problem at all? 
Chao : No . 

RL : When you got back to Nanking, were you able to use your 

equipment, or did you have to leave too soon because of the 

Chao: We did use it for a while. Actually, I was in Washington 

from '32 to '33 and then spent a year in Shanghai while the 
building in Nanking was being prepared. From '34 to '37 the 
Institute was in Nanking, and we worked there and went out 
to field work for dialect surveys and so forth. 

RL : Did you feel that the later dialect studies were effectively 
better because of your new equipment than the earlier ones? 

Chao: That was one advantage; also, of course, we had revised some 
of what we call the type lists for asking information from 
our informants. 

RL: Can you tell me what lines the important revisions followed? 

Chao: You would have a more representative vocabulary to ask them 
what to call things, and a more representative list of 
single syllables to ask. One thing, which would depend on 
the experience of those people who went with us to ask 
questions, was that you had to ask them the right way for 
them to give the natural speech, because besides the reading 
pronunciation of characters, there are some features of local 
speech—very often the colloquial things—which wouldn't come 
out from looking at the characters. You have to give them 
the right context for use. 

RL: Did you have any difficulty explaining the purpose of your 
work to your informants? 

Chao: On the whole, it was very easy to explain it to the teachers 
of the students who came as informants. But students usually 
had the impression that somebody came to teach them, rather 
than to be taught by them. 

RL: Did you find the ideas of Bloomfield and Sapir useful, and 

can you give me any examples of how they were useful in your 
field work? 


Chao: Not so much in the field work as in general theory. At that 
time-- '32 or "33--I first met Bernard Bloch, who was later 
president of the Linguistics Society. He was interested in 
dialect survey. In the American Linguistic Atlas, Bloch 
was active. And Hans Kurath was also one of the leaders 
of the American linguistics survey. I talked with those 
people about the techniques of asking information from our 
informants . 

RL: Were they working with Indian languages? 
Chao: No, primarily with American English. 

RL : Did you have any discussions with people studying American 
Indian languages when you were here? 

Chao: With Zelig Harris. That was maybe in the forties; I don't 

remember. Sapir was interested in American Indian languages 
himself. I didn't go very far into studying the American 
Indian languages. 

The Shadows of War 

RL: From the way we've been talking, it would not be apparent that 
China was in a state of great upheaval at this time. You 

mention- -or your wife mentions --that you were in Shanghai 

in 1937 when the Japanese attacked, and could almost see where 

the Commercial Press was burning up. How did you feel, both 

personally for your losses, and as a Chinese, for the situation 
of the country during this period? 

Chao: Of course, I was nervous about the situation in connection with 
the Japanese. That was the time when my translation of Through 
the Looking Glass was burned in Commercial Press. Later—during 
the Japanese occupation, I think it was --one of our Academia 
Sinica reports on dialects was still published. I don't know 
when it was--1938 or what. I think the Hupeh report was 
published. It was still before Pearl Harbor, so it was possible 
for books to be published in Shanghai. 

RL: Did you foresee at all the extent of the disaster, from the 
Chinese point of view? 


Chao: We thought serious things were going to happen, but after 

the 1937 attack, we thought it was really something serious. 
We were rather glad that the Japanese celebrated and stalled 
so that the Chinese government would have time to re-form 
and move inland gradually instead of running in disorder. 

RL: As I understand, you lost all your things, except for your 
diary and photographs. 

Chao: That's right. And later, a few books --Volumes I, II, III, 

IV of Chinese Science , the journal of the society we started 
in America. 

RL: How did those survive? Where were they? 

Chao: They were in Nanking, but some later-comers inland brought them 
for us. And two volumes of Maxwell's Electrity and Magnetism 
with annotations by Josiah Royce. [Laughter] 

RL: It must have been hard for your friends to select from your 

Chao: Of course. Later the whole house was burned down. 



A Year at the University of Hawaii. 1938-1939 

RL: I'm pleased to be back, and I thought today we would talk about 
your experience in America from 1938 until-- '47 was it, when 
you left Harvard? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: How did you choose or decide to go to Hawaii in 1938? 

Chao: I'd been asked to go there before when Greg M. Sinclair of Hawaii, 
head of the Oriental Institute, visited Nanking and asked me to 
go there. I thought I couldn't leave, but he said, "Any time you 
change your mind, let me know." In '38, we were refugees in the 
southwest in Kunming and I sort of managed to do some work there, 
but of course that was in the midst of wartime and I couldn't do 
very much. I thought a year visiting might be interesting when 
they were developing the Oriental Institute. 

RL: How was that funded? 

Chao: I don't know exactly what fund it was; it was some subsidy from 

RL: Mr. [Edward] Schafer recalled that it was Rockefeller. 

Chao: Yes, I think it was that foundation. 

RL: What were the purposes of the Oriental Institute? 


Chao: Being situated between the orient and the Occident, they thought 

that was the most strategic place to start such activities. Also, 
over there were people of oriental origin, which helped start the 
study of things oriental. 

But as it turned out, my impression was that it is between 
the orient and the Occident and as far from both of them as 

before the days of the China Clipper. So people were very ship- 
conscious. Any time people came from China or Japan or people 
from mainland America, everybody would meet the ship and ask how 
things were. 

RL: So you had very much the feeling of being isolated on an island? 

Chao: Yes, that was the feeling, at least of those who visted there. 
If you were born there and lived there, of course that was the 
world . 

RL: Did you find serious scholars there in those days? 

Chao: It depends upon whom you met with. At that time, there were not 
too many you could carry on serious research discussions with. 

RL: What were the aims of the Oriental Institute? 

Chao: They were hoping to set up a comprehensive curriculum but they 
had problems of getting personnel. Then the next year, I left 
for Yale. 

RL: Was this your first serious involvement in teaching Chinese to 
westerners since your Harvard experience in 1922 to "24? 

Chao: After that, since the first teaching experience at Harvard, I 
was involved more or less--most of the time — in dialect survey 
in China. That is the first time I think I was concentrating 
more on teaching Chinese to westerners. Actually, as I think I've 
said before, it was in classical Chinese that I started things, 
with the idea that it was good to be prepared for a study of 
Chinese books or classical texts. 

RL: Could you perhaps fill in for me what was available to teachers 
or students who wished to study Chinese? 

Chao: There were not many suitable texts one could use; that is why 

I composed everything new. Then I felt that the way to go about 


Chao: learning the language well--a living or a dead language you 

should teach it as if it were living. That was why I conducted 
the course with a lot of oral work and I even carried on 
conversations in the classical language. 

It wasn't done in China, except for fun. In my early school 
days in China, children would carry on conversations in the 
classical language for fun, but actually nobody does that. 

I also made the students write exercises in classical 
Chinese rather than just translating it back into English. 

RL: How close—if you compared classical and modern Chinese with 
languages like Greek or perhaps Hebrew (classical Greek and 
biblical Hebrew), how close would you say classical Chinese was 
to modern Chinese in comparison with other such languages? 

Chao: My impression is that there is at least that much distance between 
the two. The sentence structures are fairly close, but words 
are all different, including the so-called empty words (the 
articles and so on) --they were all different. The only difference 
in grammatical structure is that you would have sometimes modifying 
adverbial phrases after the verb more often than before the verb 
in classical, whereas in modern, you would have what you might 
call resultative complements to verbs after the verb, but most 
modifiers come before. 

So in that respect, classical Chinese is more like western 
languages. You have adverbial phrases after the verb. 

RL: Did you continue this method of teaching—speaking classical 

Chinese— or did you find your experience made you want to modify 

Chao: I haven't had a chance to teach exclusively classical Chinese 
after that. Later, when I taught modern spoken Chinese, of 
course, that was the way it's usually taught and learned. 

RL: If you were doing it now, do you think you would feel it a good 
idea to talk classical Chinese? 

Chao: If you don't talk it, at least I would still emphasize the 

audio-lingual approach in studying classical Chinese, and also 
make students compose in it, rather than merely translating the 
Chinese into English. 


RL: That was the way that Latin was taught, at least in England, 

well into the twentieth century; you had to compose Latin verse. 
I don't know what modern pedagogical theories are on this, if 
this is still felt to be an effective method of teaching 
a classical language. 

Chao: Yes. I think that is still emphasized, the audio-lingual approach 
to a language, whether living or dead. 

RL: But beyond the audio-lingual, whether it's necessary to write and 

compose in the classical language? 

Chao: Yes, I think so. In other words, an active use of the language 
rather than merely passive understanding of it. 

RL : Can you talk a bit about who the students were who were coming 

to Hawaii? After all, that was still the Depression. 

Chao: At that time, I had only three students. No, I had three students 
at Harvard; in Hawaii there were more. Edward Schafer was one, 
and Shively--one of the Shivelys who later went into government 
work. What is his first name? Not the [Donald] Shively at Harvard 
now. I don't recall the names of the other students. I had a 
couple of Chinese students too. 

RL: Would they have been Chinese from Hawaii? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: Did you have any feeling about their motivation—what brought them-- 

their recruitment, as you would say? 

Chao: I suppose they felt that they either didn't know enough of the 
language of their origin, or they had only contact with the 
Cantonese in Hawaii and needed to have some knowledge of Mandarin, 
which is more commonly used in China itself. 

RL: And the non-Chinese people like Schafer and Shively? 

Chao: There it seems to be that they would later work in that field. 

There were a lot of Hawaiians of Chinese origin who were 
interested in learning Mandarin, and that was the year I think 
when my wife had some classes in Mandarin in the city in 
cooperation with some other schools, not part of the university. 
One of my daughters also taught Mandarin there; although she had 


Chao: been born in Cambridge, Mass., she went to school in China. 
RL: That was Iris? 
Chao: Iris, yes. 

RL: How many universities in America were teaching Chinese at this 

Chao: Berkeley has had a long history. In fact, when I was a student 
at Berkeley, there were already classes in Chinese in 1919. 

RL: The first chair established at Berkeley was the Agassiz chair 

in which you, of course, held in Oriental Studies, which I think 
is a rather splendid thing for a young university as it was then. 

Again, to put it in context, if an American wanted to study 
Chinese, were there relatively few places at that time? 

Chao: Not many. 
RL: Chicago? 

Chao: Yes, I was thinking of Chicago. I don't know when it started. 
Creel was active there maybe a little later; I think he was 
already active at Chicago at that time. And Yale with George 
A. Kennedy, China-born Kennedy. Harvard, of course. 

RL: Was there beginning to be a feeling that it was very important 
to teach Chinese, or had this not yet come into academic 

Chao: It was usually admitted that the study of Chinese was important 
as a major culture, but the practical importance of it wasn't 
considered as much until after Pearl Harbor when it became more 
important and more emphasised. 

RL: Was there any strong feeling yet that you needed Chinese scholars 
to teach Chinese rather than people like Creel and Kennedy? 

Chao: I don't think especially. There was the theory that whoever was 
competent could do the work; it makes no difference what the 
origins were. In fact, George A. Kennedy himself was born in 
China, and his first language was one of the Wu dialects. 


RL: Was he a son of a missionary? 
Chao: I think so; I don't remember. 

RL: Perhaps I shall ask you this question again, but I would like 

you, if you can, to evaluate your influence on Chinese language 
teaching in the west, perhaps particularly in America. 

Chao: Well, I don't know. I think I more or less followed the 

general trend of emphasizing more and more of the modern spoken 
language. I wasn't the initiator of the trend. 1 did find more 
and more people interested in the way I went about teaching the 
language. And also, there was the general trend in teaching all 
foreign language as an active form, with the student taking part 
and using the language. 

RL: I didn't find in your bibliography an account of your records* 
that you were using in 1938 in Hawaii. 

Chao: Thirty-eight. That was before the Harvard series was recorded. 
I think those were temporary recordings, or possibly--! could 
have used possibly some of the records meant for Chinese to use. 

RL: I believe that one of them is classical Chinese read in Cantonese. 
Do you remember that? 

Chao: I don't remember. If so, it must have been some temporary 
recording rather than a commercially-manufactured one. 

RL: I have heard it said that you expected a great deal from your 
"elementary" language students. In order words, the courses 
were too difficult? 

Chao: Perhaps it depended upon the student. [Laughter] For example, 
in the case of Schafer, he didn't find it especially difficult 
to follow things; he didn't find it strange to converse in the 
classical language in class. 

RL: What about your Chinese Hawaiian students? 

*Set of four records. 33 1/2 rpm. Cantonese Primer Lessons 1-24. 
Cantonese Riddles and Fake Mandarin from Cantonese Notation. In 
The Bancroft Library. 


Chao: I don't remember how they got along, but in the case of my wife's 
class in town, there were mainly interested in acquiring the 
Mandarin pronunciation; they already knew the language as such. 

RL: They spoke Cantonese. 
Chao: Yes. 

RL: Chinese is such an extremely difficult language for westerners 

that I was going to ask how did the problems of your students in 
studying help you in designing your language courses. Did 
you take input from the students? 

Chao: You mean in composing the texts? 
RL: Yes. 

Chao: I don't think I did. I emphasized more the frequency of actual 
use, and put those frequently used phrases and constructions 
first, and then tried to make the student get into contact as 
much as possible with the language as it is actually used. 

Teaching Chinese Music; More Thoughts on Composition 

RL: Were you also teaching Chinese music? 

Chao: Yes. I gave a course on the appreciation of Chinese music, and 
sometimes got people to sing or play some of the things. Then 
they found that I took it too academically rather than artistically. 

RL: Do you mean the students or the university? 

Chao: Both. Sometimes, when I discuss the theory of equal -tempered 
scales in old Chinese musical theory, they didn't find the 
subject too exciting. 

RL: I had meant to ask you a question on a problem of singing in 

Chinese. How do you cope with the problems of tone, the tones 
in the spoken language when you are singing verse or songs? 

Chao: In the matter of chanting poetry, you follow more or less the 

tonal patterns of the dialect in which you're chanting. But in 


Chao: singing, there is more freedom, although I think there are 

articles and books even that have been written on the matching 
of tones with melody. But in modern colloquial verse, one 
usually doesn't pay too much attention to them. 

I've been more or less influenced by the classical tradition 
of singing the first two Mandarin tones — the so-called even tones- 
on a low pitch or a descending pitch, whereas the other tones 
would have either shorter or higher tones. I've followed the 
Mandarin tones only in a few cases in playful, humorous songs. 
I haven't followed the Mandarin tones when I compose tunes to the 
words. I've always been rather conservative in that respect. 

RL: Your daughter, Iris, commented that you had a very logical 

approach to music, and that if she would ask why didn't you 
compose in such and such a key or why did you use this note 
rather than that note, you would respond in certain ways, for 
instance, "That note on the piano isn't playing." [Laughter] 
Do you feel that her comment is accurate? 

Chao: I think her style of comment usually puts things in more striking 
light than necessary. I think on the whole I put logic aside and 
let my feelings go in any direction they do as to tone and melody. 
The matter of stress is not important when the words are in the 
classical verse, but in modern colloquial wording, the stress 
should fall on the so-called full words rather than the empty 
words . 

RL: Were you composing while you were in Hawaii? 

Chao: I don't remember. 

RL: Did you yourself sing for the class? 

Chao: Yes, for some of the illustrations, I sang casually. 

RL: Is there any loss of clarity of meaning in modern colloquial 
songs when the melody is freed? Are there possibilities of 
ambiguity if you don't have the spoken tones clearly reflected 
in the music? 

Chao: Yes, there is some, but those who are used to hearing Chinese 
songs would be able to at least distinguish the so-called even 
and oblique tones; if the melody is made to fit the tones of 
the words, that helps some. Singing is less intelligible. Well, 


Chao: even for non-tonal languages like English, to me, a verse sung 
is much less intelligible than one read, because you don't have 
the sentence intonation, even though the matter of stress is 
very much stressed in musical composition in English. 

RL: How have the communists coped with this problem? I have a lot 
of music on tape, but not knowing Chinese I'm not competent to 
judge how intelligible, for instance, is "The East is Red" or 
modern operas. How have they coped with the problem of matching 
the music to the words? 

Chao: Apart from operas in the traditional form in which it's not 
intelligible anyway [laughter] unless you know the story and 
the context. For popular songs, it depends upon the context, 
I suppose the syntactic words would be mostly polysyllabic, and 
that helps. That is why it's possible for romanized texts 
without tones to be read, if it isn't too technical, if only 
the common words are used. 

RL: How do you like the music of the last twenty years or so that's 
been coming out of China? 

Chao: My impression is that it's not very original but most of it is in 
good taste. 

I felt much better after the year in Hawaii. 
RL: Is there anything else you'd like to tell about that year there? 

Chao: It somehow gave me the impression of a place where it's a holiday 
every day, and I made a point of going to the beach on New Year's 
Day; it was warm enough for going to the beach. But Hawaii is not 
a stimulating working place, as say Berkeley is, where there's 
no summer or winter but it has up and downs; some change in 
temperature is stimulating, whereas Hawaii seems to be in a 
thermostat all the time. 

RL: I know what you mean, even after one summer. 

Chao: Well, one year is the same as one summer. [Laughter] 


Yale and the Yale Linguistic Club 

RL: What made you decide to go to Yale? 

Chao: Yale, at that time, was quite a linguistic center. I'd been 

corresponding with people there--[ Edgar Howard] Sturtevant and 
[Franklin] Edgerton in Far Eastern Studies, and Kennedy himself, 
the sinologist. As a matter of fact, I don't remember the 
history exactly, but anyway, the Yale Linguistic Club was quite 
a center in those days, and people from New York and Boston and 
even Chicago would go to Yale for some of the regular linguistic 
club meetings once a month. 

RL: What were the central issues that were engaging you and that 
were discussed in the Yale Linguistic Club? 

Chao: Usually, it's somebody who would read a paper--very often a 

description of some language — there was usually dinner before 
that followed by the paper and discussions. Then we'd go to a 
place --Hofbrau I think it was called, and we'd continue the 
discussion on a more informal basis. 

The first time I read a paper there was on the Foochow 
dialect, the capital of Fukien province. That's the province 
opposite Taiwan, of which the dialect in Taiwan is a variety, 
the southern variety. The Foochow dialect is interesting in 
that you practically never use the sound of a word in context 
that you pronounce singly when you get words together. They get 
very much mixed up, and there's a question of what constitutes 
one sound. You see, one sound has two meanings—one kind of 
sound and one unit of sound --and both problems are involved. 
It illustrates beautifully some of the questions in these respects 
with languages, but with more cases of those in Foochow dialect 
than anywhere else. 

RL: Can you give an illustration of that in English. 

Chao: In English, suppose you have the so-called phoneme "t" and in 
certain positions in American English it sounds very weak and 
sort of a fluttered sound as in B-e-t-t-y, Betty, where it's 
even weaker than the regular "d." Yet, you consider that sound 
with ordinary "t" as in the word "tea," it belongs to the same 
phoneme. Now this sort of thing happens all the time with 
practically every consonant in the Foochow dialect. 


RL: How was this received by the Linguistic Club? 

Chao: They were used to the idea of such changes, although the data 

themselves were new to most of them; they seemed to be interested 
in further illustrations of many problems already met with. 

RL: Were you teaching at this time? 

Chao: I was teaching at Yale at that time. I gave a course, I think, 
Chinese dialectology, if I remember right, and also regular 
modern Chinese. I don't remember all the courses. I was there 
for two years. 

RL: Were there other Sinologists besides Kennedy you want to talk 

Chao: I think he was the only other one specializing in Chinese studies. 
The other linguists were interested in other languages. 

RL: About how many students do you remember were involved in this 

Chao: In what program? 

RL: Chinese studies at Yale. 

Chao: Not very many, slightly more than at Hawaii, but still there were 
just a handful. 

Harvard and the Dictionary Project 

RL: Then in 1941 you went to Harvard. How did that come about? 

Chao: They were having a big dictionary project and they wanted people 
to help. One day George Kennedy came to see me and said, "Chao, 
you're all fixed." And the Harvard people asked me, "Being a 
Harvard man, why do you stay at Yale?" [Laughter] However, that 
project wasn't my idea at all. 

They used cuttings from secondary sources filling a big room. 
James R. Ware was more or less in charge of the thing, although 
[Serge] Elisseeff himself was the head of it. There was another 


Chao; Russian worker there—Serge Polevoy. The main source was 

P'ei wen yun fli which is itself a secondary source. So I wasn't 
too much interested. 

One of your questions was "What was done with the materials?" 
Actually, not very much was done. Shortly after the dictionary 
project began, the war started. Then there was another inter- 
ruption--my war work—teaching of the G.I.s there. Other than 
what I did with modern Chinese in the form of that Concise 
Dictionary of Spoken Chinese* nothing else was published except 
for a short article, and the cuttings were all secondary sources. 
I don't remember what they did with that; in any case, there was 
no biographical or other material of real importance for research 

RL: Whose idea was the dictionary originally? 

Chao: Elissfieff and James Ware. Elisse'eff was the chairman, although 
his own field is Japan— he's a Japanologist. Ware, is the 
Sinologist. They had it started before I went. 1 was at Yale 
at that time. I can't report much about the way that project 
was concluded — if you could call it concluded— wound up. 

RL: What was your opinion at the time, do you recall, of the value 
of the project? 

Chao: I was somewhat lukewarm because of the fact that they didn't 

concern themselves with going to the real sources— that is, going 
to the texts. Personally, I was mostly interested in the language 
as it is actually spoken and written on contemporary themes. My 
interim report, in the form of that concise dictionary, was what 
I had collected, and it was mainly concerned with the spoken form 
but also the contemporary use of the written language. 

RL: Many younger Chinese scholars— people like Larry Schneider, for 
instance --were not aware of the Harvard dictionary project, and 
I think it's an interesting episode in the development of Chinese 
studies in the west, perhaps a negative example of what ought to 
be or could be done. I had heard that it was designed to fulfill 
the function in Chinese studies that the big Oxford English 
Dictionary fills in English. Is that correct? 

*In collaboration with Lien-sheng Yang, Harvard University Press, 


Chao: It was somewhat ambitious. However, as you know, the Oxford 

dictionary was based on sources rather than on other secondary 

RL: But was this really an attempt to duplicate the position of the 

Oxford dictionary, and if so, why did they go for secondary 
materials and not the original texts? 

Chao: I suppose they thought that the P'ei wen yun fli—that main source- 
was considered in China a big collection. It was quite a 
dictionary itself, on a large scope, and they thought it would 
cover most of what they needed. 

RL: Precisely what was the methodology as it was set up by Elisse"eff 

and Ware? 

Chao: It was just translating. 

RL: Translating what? 

Chao: The cuttings from that Chinese dictionary. 

RL: When was the Chinese dictionary produced? What period? 

Chao: I can't say right away; I have to look it up. 

RL: How were they going to cope with the problem of what one would 

describe as alphabetization in English? Were they going to follow 
conventional Chinese methods of listing the characters? 

Chao: As far as I can remember, they were going to follow the usual 
order of the radicals, arranging them in the usual way. That 
was a mechanical question; always they'd be indexed according to 
phonetics — that is, according to the pronunciation in Mandarin. 

RL: Were they planning three levels—the characters, romanization 

and English? 

Chao: I don't think they were planning to have any index from the 
Chinese into English. 

RL: But in the body of the dictionary, would they have used, do you 

think, a character and then a romanization and then English? 

Chao: Yes. 


RL: How large a staff was there? 

Chao: There was one full-time man--Polevoy--a Russian. There was one 
other, Mrs. [Tamara] Mackentire, I think. I was doing part-time 
teaching myself, so it wasn't exactly full-time. That was about 
all, other than Elisse'eff and Ware, who were not actually giving 
many hours to the work. 

RL: Who had prepared all the cuttings? 

Chao: I don't remember; that was quite long ago. 

RL: If you had designed the project, how would you have set about it? 

Chao: I would have taken representative literature and cut out from 

those. Of course, it would have taken a scholar and linguist to 
judge what to cut from actual sources. That would really have 
been a big work. 

RL: In other words, perhaps you would have followed the philosophy-- 
as I understand it--of the third edition of Webster, a usage 
dictionary rather than a grammatically correct one. 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: Perhaps you already answered this question, what caused the 
eventual abandonment of the project? 

Chao: I think it was mostly the war duties and the demands on the 

RL: I thought it was still going after World War II. Wasn't Yang 
Lien-sheng working on it for some time after the war? 

Chao: He cooperated with me in connection with that Concise Dictionary 
for the modern part of it, but that's a small part, and he wasn t 
especially concerned with that; he had more to do teaching the 
regular courses. 

RL: How do you feel about it now? Do you regret the time you spent 
on it? 

Chao: I didn't really spend too much time. [Laughter] 

RL: When you chose to go to Harvard in 1941, what made you decide 
to go there? 


Chao: Well, of course I'd been at Harvard, both as a student and as a 
teacher; I'd been at Harvard twice and I liked the place, and my 
old friends were there. A joke to me was, "Being a Harvard man, 
why do you want to stay at Yale?" [Laughter] 

Although in some ways, there were more things going on at 
Yale which were nearer the kind of work I was interested in--that 
is, more linguists at Yale. After I went to Harvard, I continued 
going to those monthly meetings of the Linguistic Club, to which 
various linguists from other institutions went once a month or so. 

RL: Did you have a permanent position at Harvard growing out of this 

Chao: It was understood to be not formally permanent but as long as I 
was interested in the work. 

U.S. Army Chinese Language School at Harvard 

Chao: After Pearl Harbor, the Army set up language schools at Harvard. 
Edwin Reischauer was in charge of the Japanese part and I was 
asked to do the Chinese part. They knew that I was interested in 
teaching the spoken language. It was a very intensive course. 

RL: What do you mean, in this context, by "very intensive"? 

Chao: It was theoretically two-thirds language and one-third culture 
and other things about the Far East. But in fact, the students 
as well as the teachers, gave most of the time to the language 
part of it. Since they were intended to be sent to the Far East 
after the end of the course, they were given intensive drills in 
the active use of the language as spoken. They were not taught 
so many characters but they were given the romanized form of the 
speech, and only toward the end of the course were they taught a 
very few everyday characters they might come across. 

But, in fact, toward the end of the course, some of the more 
enterprising students started to learn more characters than they 

were required, and they ended up editing a Chinese newspaper 
called Ta Szu Pao. There was — there still is--a Chinese newspaper 
called Ta Kung Pao, The Great Public, and this can be translated 
as The Great Private. [Laughter] That seems to have been the 
only newspaper in Chinese completely edited by Americans. To be 
sure, it was only mimeographed sheets. 


RL: How often did they put this out? 

Chao : I think more frequently than once a week; I don't remember. 

Ta Kung Pao--The Great Public --has been a daily, but I don't think 
they turned it out every day- -maybe a couple of times a week. I 
don't know exactly. 

RL: In characters? 

Chao: Yes, in characters. 

RL: That's a great achievement. Did you help with it at all? 

Chao: No, hardly at all. If they asked something, I would answer them, 
but I didn't edit anything--! let them do it. 

RL: Do you remember roughly how many class hours they worked? 

Chao: During the day, they would have probably six hours a day. Then 
there would be socials at which everybody would try to practice 
the language. It was really full time. 

RL: Did you have weekly tests? 

Chao: We did have--I think more often than weekly. As a matter of fact, 
in the actual exercises, they were being tested all the time. 

RL: Do you know how the students were selected? Did you have anything 
to do with that? 

Chao: No. They were just sent from various places. At the end of it, 
they were supposed to be sent to the Far East, but in fact, some 
of them were sent to Europe and, of course, would forget what they 
had learned. But the majority of them were sent to the places 
they were meant to be sent to. I think I said that some of them 
turned out to be leading Sinologists or Japanologists. One of 
them went to China, and at the end of the war he entered a Chinese 
college in Nanking and married a Chinese wife. 

RL: Who was that? 

Chao: That was Frederick Wade Mote. I cited the middle name--W-a-d-e-- 
because in the system we were teaching (the national romanization) 
we were opposed to the commonly used Wade [Giles] system, and he 
had the middle name Wade. [Laughter] 


RL: What other scholars can you remember who were students in this 

Chao: James Crump. I think he's still chairman of the Chinese Department 
at Ann Arbor, I think it is. Mote is at Princeton. One of the 
best students—Gerald Stryker— usually came out on top in the 
examinations and later became head of the Voice of America and 
often did broadcasting to China in Chinese. 

RL: Did any of them, to your knowledge, go into the state department? 
Chao: Yes. I don't remember the names. 

RL: Of course, it rapidly became a very difficult place for China 
experts. How large a staff did you have to assist you in 

Chao: I think there were about half a dozen—more than that— nearly ten. 
I had two daughters assisting, a boy from M.I.T. [Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology] --two boys from M.I.T., both of whom 
became my sons-in-law. [Laughter] 

RL: Which daughters were they? 

Chao: My first and second— Iris and Nova. 

RL: And the sons-in-law? Was it Mr. Pian? 

Chao: Yes. He spells it P-i-a-n, Theodore Pian. The other is Huang, 
P.Y. Huang; he has no American name. 

RL: I can tell how you recruited your daughters, but how did you 
recruit the rest of your staff? 

Chao: I suppose mostly according to their practical knowledge of standard 

RL: You mentioned socials. Did your wife take a large part in helping 
you with these? 

Chao: Occasionally but not all the time. 
RL: What sort of structure did these have? 

Chao: They were rather informal and not the whole class all the time. 
They were casual group meetings. 


RL: How long was the course? 

Chao: I think about eight months as far as I can remember. There 

were two classes; they overlapped a little over a year--1943 to 

RL: About how many students in each class? 

Chao: I can't tell off hand; I think less than a hundred. 

RL: So you had roughly a ratio of one to ten, teacher-student ratio? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: When the students had graduated, how competent do you feel that 
the average student was --not somebody like Mote, for instance? 

Chao: They could speak comfortably on everyday subjects, but of course 
not on technical, scientific subjects. They wouldn't know the 
terminology in various technical subjects, but they could be 
understood very well and communicate comfortably in everyday 

RL: Then they went to work as interpreters and so on? 
Chao: Some of them did, yes. 

RL: I'm more familiar with the Japanese language program. Some of 
them were thrown right out onto operational shifts and put to 
monitoring radio broadcasts. Of course, that was a different 
situation. China was a friendly power. How would you compare 
the Chinese program with the Japanese programs that you were 
aware of? 

Chao: My impression is that students at first found the Japanese easier. 
They could use the kana and they didn't have to bother with tones. 
But at a later stage, they had more to do with the Japanese grammar, 
which is more complicated than spoken Mandarin. 

The difficulty with tones really is psychological rather than 
linguistic because once they're convinced that tones are part of 
the word and remember to use it—otherwise it wouldn't be the same 
word--once that attitude is acquired there is no difficulty 
imitating the tones. I think in only one case, in a course here 
at U.C., a student just couldn't imitate the tones. If you said 
"ar" he'd say "ah" [different pitch]; he was pitch-blind, or 


RL: So from your experience, would you say that pitch-deafness is 
a very rare occurrence? 

Chao: Very rare, yes. It's the pitch consciousness that you can teach 
them so they feel that that's part of the word. 

RL: Would you think that pitch-deafness is more of a psychological 
construct than— 

Chao: In that particular case — that was the only case I met with. 
There may be something physiological; I don't know. 

RL: I remember the students of Japanese complained of the different 
forms of address to the people of different rank that they were 
taught in a great deal of detail. Did you have any of this sort 
of thing? 

Chao: There are some degrees of politeness and so forth, but it's not 
nearly so complicated as in Japanese. 

RL: Did you attempt to include this in your course? 

Chao: Yes. For example, the everyday word for "you" is ni, and the 
polite form is nin with a final "n" added. That's about all. 
There is a polite form for the third person, but that's rare. 

RL: Did you have any contact with other service programs teaching 
Chinese? You were teaching for the army. Navy programs, for 
instance—did they consult with you at all? 

Chao: Occasionally, on some specific questions, but on the whole we 
didn't have close relations. 

RL: Do you think it should have been a bigger program, or do you think 
it was too large? If there were about two hundred students in 
your program and there were other programs going on for other 
services, would you feel that this was about the right number? 

Chao: For the need? 

RL: Yes. 

Chao: I have no idea. 

RL: Typically, the need is perceived and then there's a lag before 


RL: the program starts, and then there is an overproduction of 

specialists, the result of bureaucratic inertia. Do you feel 
that there was over-production? 

Chao: Apparently not. 

It was on the basis of those courses that I wrote my 
Cantonese Primer and Mandarin Primer. Few people know that the 
Mandarin Primer was a translation from my Cantonese Primer. 
[Laughter] At first the U.S. government thought they'd be landing 
first from the south so they started by asking me to teach 

Consultant to Bell and General Electric Laboratories; Breaking 
a Japanese Code 

RL: You've mentioned in passing your work with some laboratories 
during the war. Could you tell me more about that? 

Chao: I had always been interested in experimental phonetics. There 

were some important developments in practical acoustics as applied 
to language. So, I went to the Bell Telephone Labs as consultant 
on matters of language and phonetics. They were developing a 
scheme which would be useful for visual perception of sound. 

There was one scientist (I think he was in the Bell Telephone 
Labs) who was deaf and who learned later to talk by looking at 
the pattern produced by the spectrograph. He would converse with 
people by looking at the pattern that the other person produced -- 
something he couldn't have done with the old-fashioned kymograph. 

RL: Did these studies have application to war work? 

Chao: It was useful for communications --for recording and transmission 

of speech. I went rather regularly to Murray Hill lab or the Bell 
Telephone labs. 

Related to that was the statistics of the occurrence of kinds 
of sounds, and that contributed to the final breaking of the secret 
[Japanese] code. In fact, the chief workers on that scheme on 
breaking that code didn't know a thing about the Japanese language. 
It was purely on statistical principles, because languages have 


Chao: certain characteristic relations of different frequencies over. 
«ccurrenp?--not the acoustic frequency but frequency of occurrence 
of various sounds. I was only on the sideline of that project. 

RL: That's an extremely exciting story. Was this intercepted radio 

Chao: Yes, that's right. 

RL: I suppose you needed a security clearance for this work. 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: So that's what Bell was doing. What about G.E.? 

Chao: G.E. was more directly concerned with acoustics as such rather 
than application to language. They were less concerned; they 
did some of it but not as much as Bell Telephone. 

RL: I don't see the commercial application of this. Was this work 

that was funded by the government because they had the facilities? 

Chao: I think so. 

RL: Or did the companies hope to make commercial application of their 
research discoveries? 

Chao: Of course, in those large companies, there are always things 

going on which they didn't anticipate, with application in the 
near future, possible future and later application. 

RL: Did you work as a consultant for any other laboratories? 

Chao: I can't remember. I carried on correspondence with people in 
England, but I think that was later. 

RL: Did you find this helpful in your own work? 

Chao: I've written a few articles on the things, but I was mostly 

interested in the grammatical analysis and recording of dialects, 
and we rarely had need to go into the acoustic details. 



RL: When the Army Language school closed, what was your main 
responsibility at Harvard? 

Chao: I was concerned for some time with the activities of UNESCO 

[United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization] 
I went to Europe for some meetings. 1 was in charge of a seminar 
for one summer in Garden City, New York, in the east of New York 
state. And the American government was inviting some Chinese 
scholars over, and I was concerned with making contacts for them. 

RL: Did you feel these seminars were valuable? 

Chao: Yes. It was good because the people from various places attended 
and there were various seminars going on. They exchanged notes 
about areas of science, education and culture. 

RL: Were you connected at all with the translation project? 
Chao: Not specifically. 

RL: Can you describe the focus of any of the seminars that you thought 
particularly valuable? 

Chao: I think the most valuable part was really the personal exchanges, 
the people from different countries and the social contacts of 
those people were just as valuable as the regular formal meetings. 

RL: Were there many Chinese representatives? 

Chao: Not many. 

RL: Could you have stayed at Harvard if you'd wished to? 

Chao: Yes. Actually, I stopped the work at Harvard the year before 
because I was administrator of this UNESCO committee and other 
things--! was responsible for conferences --in Europe in '46. I 
came to Berkeley in '47. However, I did express a wish to go 
back to China occasionally to Elisse"eff. When the war stopped 
in '45, he said, 'Veil now that the war is stopped, you may do 
as you wish." I thought that was enough hint at the time. 

RL: When I saw Yang Lien-sheng, he said that it was very difficult for 


RL: Chinese to get regular tenure appointments in the forties and 
that, in fact, he was the first Chinese to get a tenure 
appointment at Harvard. Could you have stayed at Harvard on 
the regular ladder in a tenure position? 

Chao: I don't know. [Laughter] Yang is now a chair professor. 

Co-author with Buwei Yang Chao 

RL: Your wife's books were always a great pleasure to me. Can you 
tell me a little bit about how you worked with her on them? 
I'm thinking of Autobiography of a Chinese Woman* and How to Cook 
and Eat in Chinese.** 

Chao: That How to Cook was translated by my daughter, Iris. She would 
complain sometimes, "Daddy, you have so many footnotes. Somebody 
will think that you translated the book," not that she was the 
translator. She was very busy at that time, the time of her 
final examinations. I did the autobiography, and recently the 
unpublished manuscript of "A Family of Chaos."*** That starts 
from the year of our marriage down to the present time. 

RL: What is your collaborative working method? 

Chao: Actually, she just gives me her manuscript and I ask her questions 
about things—how to do certain things or what she meant by 
certain things. 

RL: So she writes in Chinese? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: Do you sometimes wish to make substantial revisions? 

*Buwei Yang Chao, Autobiography of a Chinese Woman. John Day Company, 
New York, 1947, later Greenwood Press. 

**Buwei Yang Chao, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese. John Day Company, 
New York, 1945. 

***op. ci't. 


Chao: If it's something about my experience, I might add, "This is 
what I remember." 

RL: Does she ever criticize your English? 

Chao: On the whole, she doesn't do that very much, except when I have 
questions to ask her; then she'll give her opinions. 

RL: She has a wonderfully readable style. What is her Chinese style 

Chao: It's written in the colloquial with some influence from the 

classical. When you write down characters on paper, the tendency 
is to draw—because you were trained in classical language at 
first, there is always a tendency to write in classical style, 
which is more brief, you see, unless the text is meant to teach 
spoken Chinese, for instance, we just let it go at that. 

RL: Would much younger people, who have not been educated in the 
classical style, have any difficulty in reading it? 

Chao: I don't think they would because people, even now in China, when 
they write with characters don't have to do it exactly the way 
it's spoken, which usually takes more syllables and more 

RL: What sort of reception did the first two books have when they 
were published in the forties? 

Chao: The cookbook had a great reception and I don't remember how many 
editions. The autobiography was published and they anticipated 
it would be a best seller, but unfortunately it came out at the 
time of Roosevelt's death, I think. Originally it was published 
by John Day, now it's taken up by Greenwood Press. The cookbook 
is also originally by John Day and now by Random House. They put 
out a paper edition—Vintage Books. Quite recently, she has 
something else— How to Order and Eat in Chinese.* 

RL: I'm looking forward to that very much. 

Chao: You haven't got a copy yet? We have some extra copies and I'll 
make a note to be sure to send you one. 

*Random House, Vintage Books, 1974. 

• 1 

* 9 * 

CMS ; 


Professors Y.R. Chao and Fu T'ung welcoming 
Bertrand Russell and Dora Black at Peking 
University, 1920. From left to right: 
Fu T'ung, Russell, Black, Chao. 

By Sun Yat-sen's mausoleum in Nanking, 1930s 

The Chao Family, Cambridge, 
Massachusetts - 1940s. 
From left to right: Bella, 
Mrs. Chao, Lensey, Iris, 
Nova, Mr. Chao. 

With Eleanor Roosevelt at UNESCO Seminar, 
Garden City, New York - 1946. 

Mr. and Mrs. Chao in Germany 

Mrs. Chao, selecting photographs 
for the memoir - May, 1977. 


A Quick Appointment 

RL: Thank you for coming again, Larry. Perhaps we could start 

where we left off last time—the end of your period at Harvard. 
Was the presidency of the University of Nanking offered to 

Chao: Yes, and I was scared away. 

RL: But when you left Harvard, did you intend to go all the way 
through to China? 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: What happened to change your mind? 

Chao: That was the main thing—they wanted me to do administrative 
work. During those days, everybody had to work hard and, 
hence there were frightful difficulties. The only way is to 
stay away. 

RL: Were you aware of other possibilities than the presidency of 
Nanking University when you left Harvard? 

Chao: I was interested in the University of California, and they 
told me, "If you can't come this time, any time you change 
your mind, let us know." I was at Ann Arbor, Michigan, that 
summer when the message from Nanking came. So I wrote to 
[Peter A.] Boodberg saying, "I've changed my mind; have you 
changed yours?" He said, "No." I got a letter from him and a 


Chao: telegram from the vice president [Monroe E.] Deutsch, and 
that was that. 

RL: So in those days, it was just as simple as that. You didn't 
have to go through a committee? 

Chao: I suppose there were formalities that they went through as 
usual, but since that was already in the previous records, 
probably they passed it very quickly. 

Berkeley Colleagues; 
Chen Shih-hsiang 

Peter Boodberg, Ferdinand Lessing. 

RL: I don't think Boodberg's name has come up in our interviews. 
Perhaps you could tell us something about how you knew him 
and what you thought of him. 

Chao: I knew him when he was a visiting scholar occasionally to 

help with the [Harvard] dictionary project. He wasn't there 
very long, but only for short visits. I found him really a 
Chinese scholar interested primarily in classical Chinese. 
He hardly spoke Chinese, but he was a very good scholar—better 
than many Chinese scholars. Very well read. He came to 
America on a Chinese passport. He was from somewhere in the 

RL: Harbin? 

Chao: Yes. Since there had been that change-over in Russia, he 
couldn't get a regular passport from there. 

Mrs. Boodberg was at that time already a naturalized 
French citizen. He came here. He didn't particularly want 
to be naturalized as an American citizen, so he still had 
his Chinese status before he died. 

RL: That's funny, because I heard for years that he had a Czarist 
passport which he would never give up. 

Chao: He may have carried that, but he didn't use it in entering 
this country. 

RL: He was technically a Chinese citizen, was he? 












Yes. [Laughter] 

From looking at his biography, it seems that he did all his 
training at Berkeley, is that correct? 

A good deal of it. Of course, he already had studied Chinese 
in Russia at an earlier time. [University of Vladivostok] 

Do you know what first interested him in Chinese studies? 

I don't know. I hadn't asked him about the earliest beginnings 
of his Chinese studies. He was one of the best read Chinese 
scholars, including Chinese. 

Why do you think he published so little? 

I think he was very critical of others, including himself, 
and so hesitated to publish. He had those Cedules and 
collections of essays which were circulated but not sold by 
any regular publisher. 

I would expect that publishing before the second world war 
was on a different order, wasn't it? In other words, people 
weren't expected to publish much. 

They were, but not as urgently as they are now. 

What did you hear from your students about him as a teacher? 

I think the better students all enjoyed being taught by him, 
but the average students found him a little abstruse and 
unclear and found him talking over their heads. 

Would you agree that he had at times a vocabulary so 
idiosyncratic that it was hard even for an English speaker 
to follow? 

I suppose it's just the fact that he freely used, or even 
made up, words of Greek and Latin derivation, that sounded 
a little abstruse to the ordinary students. But they were 
all reasonable the way he used them. 

How did you feel about his technique as a translator of 
classical Chinese texts? 


Chao: I think they are not all smooth reading, but he is very 

meticulous about accuracy. In that respect, he is one of 

the best translators of Chinese texts, although he hasn't 
done much with extended pieces of work. 

RL: I heard that he was a wonderful story teller. Do you remember 
any of his stories? 

Chao: I can't recall any at the moment, but I was impressed by 
his story telling. 

RL: Did you know him? [to Schneider] 

Schneider: Yes, I studied with him. I wanted to ask you about a 
romanization system that he developed for transcribing 
classical Chinese. He had not used it in the classroom 
when I studied with him. I understood that it was developed 
later. How did you feel about that transcription system, 
since you yourself, of course, had spent some time on one 
for Mandarin. 

Chao: I think the fact is probably he wasn't too seriously interested 
in promoting that system [laughter] himself, although it is 
logical enough, but not meant to be completely practical, but 
it was logical. 

Schneider: Would it have been possible to use your national romanization 
system for classical Chinese to do the same sorts of things? 

Chao: That's meant for studying Mandarin. For the classical 
Chinese, the only difference between that and the usual 
Wade-Giles system is that the tones are implied. Otherwise, 
it does the same thing. 

Schneider: How did Boodberg's differ then? 

Chao: I think his system tries to introduce some features of 
historical elements. 

RL: You implied something that's hard to pin down. You said that 
his system was logical but that he wasn't entirely serious 
about it. I think people sometimes felt this about Boodberg-- 
that he was playing a serious game, but that it was a game 
with his studies and with his students. 












In a sense, unless you're in some form of applied science, 
all scholarly work is a game. [Laughter] Perhaps his 
attitude toward it is more so than some others. Pure 
mathematics --what is that definition by--was it Bertrand 
Russell?--who was it who said, "Mathematics is the study in 
which nobody knows what one is talking about nor whether 
what one is talking about is true." 

Perhaps I should now ask you about [Ferdinand D.] Lessing, 
another of the great figures of Oriental Studies in Berkeley. 
Was he teaching at the time that you came, or was he working 
on the Mongolian dictionary full time? 

He wasn't teaching much when I was there. He did give a 
course; I even forgot what it was. I knew him when we 
were living on the same street in Peking; back in the 1930s. 
He was less and less active after I came to Berkeley. 

Do you know what first led him into oriental studies? 

He was in oriental studies back in the old days in Germany; 
I don't know how he got interested. 

I think he studied in Russia as well as in Germany. 

Did he? I didn't know. 

What did you think of the Mongolian dictionary project? 

I think it was an important piece of work, although I would 
probably have arranged it differently and introduced more 
ideas of linguistic analysis of original texts. But it was 
an important piece of work. 

Was he an approachable man? 

Yes, he was quite approachable, although not extremely 
talkative. But he spoke rather fluent Chinese, as distinct 
from the case of Boodberg--not that Boodberg couldn't learn, 
but he didn't think it was necessary to learn to talk Chinese 
for a sinologist. 

What did he feel about the importance of teaching spoken 
Chinese language? 













He felt that it was an important part, but he wasn't 
personally concerned with that part. 

In reading some of the University records, I saw that William 
Popper had helped re-organize the oriental languages department 
back in the thirties. Was he still actively interested in it? 

I think by the time I came here, he was no longer active in 
Far Eastern studies. 

Did the department have any ongoing or close relationship with 
Near Eastern languages. 

Not very much. We had separate activities, although in the 
Popper volume I contributed an article. 

Can you talk about our friend Chen Shih-hsiang? 

He was very, what they call in Chinese wen-hslieh chia--a 
literary man. So he was both a scholar of literature and 
also wrote prose and poetry in Chinese. I don't think he did 
very much in the field of recent colloquial verse, but he 
could compose classical verse very well. 

I think most Chinese do believe that if you can compose 
the classical style verse, you can compose the colloquial 
better, with a deeper background. 

I think that Shih-hsiang felt himself very much cut off from 
his roots. I once asked him what poetry he was writing, and 
he said something which may not have been factually true, 
but I think had some subjective truth--"! don't write poetry; 
there's nobody to read it." 

When he did once in a while, it's good reading. 
What do you think of Chairman Mao's verse? 

Technically, he's a perfectly good writer in the classical 
style; he writes very well. 

Always classical? 

I haven't seen any of his colloquial verse; maybe he doesn't 
write any colloquial verse. 


Schneider: I don't know when Chen Shih-hsiang came here. Were you 
responsible in some way for his coming to Berkeley? 

Chao: I supported some of his promotions. About his actually 
coming, I don't remember whether I took part in that. 

RL: He was not an old student or colleague of yours from your 
days in China? 

Chao: No. 

Growth and Development of the Oriental Languages Department 







When Chen Shih-hsiang came--and again, I'm not sure precisely 
when in the development of the department that occurred [1945]-- 
what changes did that represent in terms of the growth of the 

It meant an addition of a new talent, no doubt about that. 
In most oriental departments, people in classical research 
were emphasized rather than those who can do some creative 
work themselves. I believe that even though linguists don't 
have to teach the daily drill in the foreign language to 
students that's being done, at least a teacher should be able 
to do that when he teaches the literary material of that 
language . 

So with your arrival and then Shih-hsiang's, the first major 
steps were taken in the modernization of the oriental languages 
department here? 

My arrival would represent emphasis on the contemporary 
spoken language. But Shih-hsiang's contribution- -would you 
call it modernization when you have somebody who emphasizes 
the classical language and was able to do creative work 
himself in that style? It's a strengthening of the teaching 
of language and literature. 

How would you see, then, the principal objectives of the 
oriental languages department when you came in 1947? 

I think, because that was shortly after the war, people 
already recognized the importance of following the work of 


Chao: any foreign language as a living language in various language 
departments. So, in general, oriental languages followed 
that trend too. 

RL: Did this create much tension? For example, there have been 

tensions over definition of the roles of language departments, 
including English—whether they are to be service departments. 
In fact, I was speaking to somebody just yesterday who said, 
"Oriental languages is not a service department like mathematics, 
which exists to teach mathematics to physicists, chemists and 
engineers." I wonder what the mathematicians would think of 
that definition. [Laughter] In any case, this problem of a 
service department --was that faced in "47, and if so, how? 

Chao: My impression was that people in the department take for 
granted that a department like oriental languages would 
perform both functions, both service and the study of oriental 
language and literature on its own account. 

RL: Was formal linguistics taught in the department at that point, 
either by Mary Haas or yourself? 

Chao: There was no department of linguistics yet. Occasionally some 
general--! don't remember if there was a course in the 
introduction to linguistics at that time. The earliest meeting 
of the linguistic institute—summer linguistic institute—was 
in 1951 in Berkeley. There were, of course, a number of us 
that were interested in general linguistic problems who gave 
occasional lectures. 

RL : Did you also teach Cantonese here in Berkeley? 
Chao: Yes. I gave regular Cantonese courses. 

RL: People have said that this department, at least in the past, 
was --depending on your perspective— overweighted in Chinese, 
or very strong in Chinese, but that the Japanese side of it 
was weak. 

Chao: It changes. On the whole, perhaps during the greater part of 
the time, the emphasis was more on Chinese than on Japanese. 

RL: How did this come about? 

Chao: For one thing, Lessing was more prominent in the Chinese field. 
Yoshi Kuno— that was way back in the 1920s, I think— was one of 


Chao: the few Japanese teachers. It makes a difference whether 

you have a good representation of scholars from the different 

RL: Was there opposition within the department to increasing 
the Japanese side of the faculty? 

Chao: No, not that I know of. 

RL: How about the students? I remember the numbers were still 

very, very small at institutions such as Cambridge University. 
What was the student body like when you came in '47? 

Chao: Those who did take courses in the oriental languages were 

usually active and interested, because they were not required 
to take it for their language requirement. There were a few 
students of Cantonese origin whose native language was some 
form of Cantonese, that wanted to learn Mandarin. Or even in 
the Cantonese course I gave there were some who speak the 
commonly used form of Cantonese (Sei yap) , who wanted to learn 
standard Cantonese. There were occasional proposals to set 
up special courses for them, but they didn't want to be 
segregated. On the whole, they took courses with the other-- 
what they call in Hawaii—the Haolis. [Laughter] 

There are advantages and disadvantages in the integrated 
form for Chinese courses. On the whole, the interest was 
integrated . 

RL: Which form would you have preferred? 

Chao: I think it would have depended upon the number of people 

concerned. If there had been a large group, all speakers of 
Sei yap who wanted to learn standard Cantonese or to learn 
Mandarin, a course specially designed for them would be more 
efficient than those addressed to non-speakers of any form of 
Chinese. So far, that didn't appear necessary. 

RL: A complete reversal in the late sixties—we had requests from 

some people for segregated courses—Asian studies, Black studies, 
etcetera. But in the forties, was this resented by the 
students — the idea that they should be set aside, or by the 

Chao: I think the students didn't want to be separated. 











I read in the University's centennial volume* that by 1968, 
twenty-two Ph.D.s had been granted in oriental languages, 
and I did hear at times that the requirements were so rigorous 
that it was "almost impossible" to get a Ph.D. Did you feel 
that the requirements were excessively rigorous? 

They were fairly rigorous, but other departments also had 
pretty rigorous requirements. In other language departments, 
they required a good background in Greek and Latin and some 
other foreign languages in addition to the field of concentration. 

Was there one person more than another in the oriental language 
department who was responsible for these requirements? 

Usually they were designed from discussion, at special 
departmental committee meetings. 

I believe that there used to be three oriental languages and 
two European languages, in addition to other requirements. 
How long would you estimate that it would take a very competent 
student to get his Ph.D. under that system? 

Usually it would depend on how well grounded in that field the 
undergraduate study has been. Some of those could have been 
taken care of before doing graduate work. If they're well 
taken care of, then the greater part of graduate work could be 
devoted to the research necessary for the Ph.D. 

Then about how long would it have taken from the B.A. to the 

As far as I can remember, it was something like four years. 
Three years is considered good speed. There are a couple of 
cases of students who, after ten or twenty years, are still 
not finished. 

Were there some changes in the requirements --which really is 
to say in the structure of the department and its teaching-- 
that you would like to have seen implemented that somehow 
never got put through? 

*The Centennial Record of the University of California. 1868- 
1968 completed and edited by Verne A. Stadtman and the 
Centennial Publications Staff, University of California Printing 
Department, Berkeley, 1967, p. 95. 


Chao: There had been changes here and there, some of which I was 
in favor of, but I can't think of any special case where I 
advocated something that didn't get put through. 

Schneider: Would you have preferred more emphasis on teaching the 
contemporary spoken language? 

Chao: I think on the whole, enough emphasis had been given to 
teaching the contemporary spoken language. 

Schneider: What kind of emphasis was in fact put on the spoken language 
as opposed to examinations that concentrated on translating 
ability and reading for advanced degrees? 

Chao: On the whole, since the topics of the graduate work vary from 
student to student, the department hasn't made it an actual 
necessary requirement to be able to use the spoken language 
actively, especially as we realized that Boodberg couldn't 
speak at all. [Laughter] 

Schneider: Was he in charge of the department for a long period of time? 

Chao: Yes, he was in charge for some time; I don't know how long. 

I think he was chairman more than once. I was chairman twice, 
only one year each time. 

Schneider: You're implying that Boodberg's influential position in the 

department affected this problem of a spoken language to some 

Chao: At least to the extent that nobody insisted on fluent use of 
the spoken language for every graduate student. 

Schneider: Would it have made a difference in the spoken language emphasis 
if the mainland had been available to--had been accessible 
to your students after 1949. 

Chao: I don't think so, because people from Taiwan speak pretty 
good Mandarin. 

Schneider: Again, I don't know what was happening before 1957--before 

the NDEA [National Defense Education Act] ; were your students 
going to Taiwan during the fifties to study? 


Some of them did. 













Were they encouraged to do so by the department? 

They were not especially urged but they were encouraged. 
And that center for language study in Taiwan-- 

I think it was called the Stanford Language Program at one 
time. When did that begin? 

I don't remember; it was probably fifteen years ago or something. 

Was there much liaison with other departments? For instance, 
here we have a history graduate from Berkeley, in Chinese 
history—Mr. Schneider. Was there much concern about students 
in other departments who needed Chinese as a part of their 

I think in only individual cases. There was no special 
departmental liaison. For example, Woodbridge Bingham was 
a good sinologist, but he was in history. 

Now, twenty-seven years later, are there changes you would 
like to see in the department currently? 

My feeling is that it is going in the right direction and it 
takes time to make progress. 

What direction is that? 

On the whole, I think it's mostly towards more emphasis on 
modernization, to modern forms of language. Of course, I 
would hate to see less emphasis on history and culture and 
literature, which has been the tradition all along. 

Do you notice much change in the student body? 

I'm somewhat out of contact with the student body, but on 
the whole, they seem to be very active and they have that 
student publication. 

The Phi Theta papers? 


Are more Chinese coming in now? 





I don't know. Is there a greater ratio of Chinese than there 
was before? 

I don't know, but there is a general trend. I just wondered 
if it had occurred in oriental languages. 

My impression is that it's about the same. 

The East Asiatic Library 





I had heard that, in 1947, the East Asiatic Library was very 
small and almost an amateur library until Elizabeth Huff came. 
How was it when you first came here? 

It was rather small, yes. Later it moved to Durant Hall [from 
the main library] . (It used to be called Boalt Hall and now 
they've renamed it Durant Hall.) The East Asiatic Library was 
then there. By the way, the term "Asiatic" somehow is resented 
by Asiatics; now, everybody is supposed to say "Asians," except 
the name of this library [laughter], which is a proper name 

that you can't change, 
the important things. 

There's now a good collection—most of 

Did you work with Elizabeth Huff on the building up of the 

No, I didn't, except occasional introductions to collections 
in China that might be available. 

The Loyalty Oath and the Free Speech Movement 



How did you feel about the Loyalty Oath controversy which 
started in 1949? 

The faculty felt that it was discriminatory and they wanted 
to change that. Many refused to sign. Some of them were 
fired. And the interesting thing is that at that time, I think, 
[Earl] Warren as governor was ex-of f icio chairman of the Board 
of Regents, and [Edward C.] Tolman of psychology, as leader of 
the faculty, sued the Board of Regents — sued the University in 









the name of the Board of Regents. Warren was the defendant, 
but he himself being in sympathy with the faculty, was hoping 
all the time that he would lose the case, and he did, although 
not before losing some members of the faculty. There was 
[Ernst H.] Kantarowicz who left for the east, and Leonardo 
Olschki also was one of the non-signers; he died subsequently. 

Olschki was later re-hired by the University, wasn't he, 
as a lecturer in the oriental languages department? 


What effect did this controversy have on the department? Did 
it split it? 

Everybody was in sympathy with the majority of the faculty. 
I don't know of anybody who advocated the Regents' position. 

And [Edward H.] Schafer was also a non-signer. What was 
Boodberg's position on this? 

He was a non-signer. 

I think technically not; he did sign. It was said that he 
signed because he was not a citizen. I don't know whether 
that's true, but he was anxious about his status because, 
as you tell me, he was on a Chinese passport. 

Yes, that's right. I can't remember clearly. 

Do you agree with the analysis that came out in a book about 
twenty years after this—that the problem was basically a 
power struggle and a series of personal encounters between 
loud and influential men. Would you agree with that? 

That was my impression. There was really no ideological point. 


Then the next major drama was in the sixties. You were still 
here, were you, Larry? 

Schneider: Yes. 

How did you feel about the Free Speech Movement and all of the 
troubles that followed on after that? 


Chao: I wasn't involved in that--I speak so little. [Laughter] 
Whatever I speak usually is not concerned with things 
personal, but more organizational. So, probably whatever 
I say would be given the freedom I need. 

Further Dialect Studies; Toi Shan in Chinatown 

RL: During your years in Berkeley, how have your professional 
interests developed? 

Chao: I still have field notes that I haven't quite worked through 
on the dialect studies done in China. Some of those notes 
were recently worked through by my colleague in Taiwan and 
they were printed. 

RL: Who was that? 

Chao: Yang Shih-Feng. 

RL: And which dialect? 

Chao: That was Hunan. 

RL: And you still have more work to do? 

Chao: Yes. I have taken some recordings of the Toi Shan dialect 
of Chinatown in San Francisco where the majority speak the 
Tai Shan dialect, and that hasn't been completely transcribed 
yet. One of the speakers already died, and I'll have to have 
somebody else to interpret. 

RL: Is your technique of working in Chinatown similar to that 
which you used in China? 

Chao' On the whole, it's about the same. I take free conversation, 

but also I give them type lists of all the phonetic possibilities- 
characters if they are literate which represent all the possible 
combinations of sounds. 

In all my field work that I did in China, one important 
thing is to make sure that they are reminded of things that 
they would say rather than just reading, because when you read 
it, it is very often different from the way you say it. 







Schneider : 

How do you choose your informant ? 

Very often, I can't choose the best informant. I have to 
choose informants that are available; then I have to make 
sure that they are representative of the dialect of places. 

How would you define the best informant? 

One whose speech is more typical of the community than one 
who is either too young or doesn't know enough or one who is 
influenced by outside dialects. 

How do you determine what is representative? 

Before going to a place, I make some general study of the 
speech of that region, and then compare the various possible 
informants. One disadvantage I had when I went around in the 
country [China] was that they knew I was a promoter of 
standard Mandarin, and they would try to approximate Mandarin 
when I asked them to speak their own dialect. And so, after 
a while, I would usually try to get a smattering of their 
dialect to make them feel at ease to speak their own dialect. 

Did you use mostly men, or is this irrelevant? 

It happens that men were usually more available than women, 
although there were some women. I haven't noticed any 
consistent difference between men's and women's speech, 
except, of course, the range of pitch. Then, as to tones, 
it's relative to one's voice. 

Who was the wider range of pitch- -men or women? 

If you include falsetto, a man would have quite a range of 
pitch. But in ordinary speech, it seems about the same. 

Have you used women in the Chinatown project? 


No, I haven't. 

When did you begin the Chinatown project? 

That was more than ten years ago. 


Grammar of Spoken Chinese 

RL: I know that you are aware of the enormous interest in your 

grammar of spoken Chinese. I would like to ask what led you 
to contest the "dogma" that Chinese has no grammar? 

Chao: I suppose that that statement usually means that there's no 
inflection—no tense, no number, no difference in first, 
second and third person and so forth. But as to word order 
and word classes (as to their function) and the status of the 
Chinese syllable being a free word or bound --those are what 
you would call grammatical features of the language. So 
there's a good deal to say about Chinese grammar besides 

RL: Would you say that yours was the first major analysis of 
spoken Chinese grammar? 

Chao: I wouldn't say it was the first, but I think that was the 
most extensive study and went into greater details and 
considered all the possibilities of Chinese. 

Schneider: Were you building on some kind of tradition, then, perhaps 
from Academia Sinica people who had done some smaller 
grammatical studies? 

Chao: No, I didn't use any special pattern for it. Of course, I 
had been collecting material for quite some time. 

Schneider: Who else would you say had done any significant work before 
your book on the subject? 

Chao: I think Wang Li did some, although he wasn't especially 

concerned with the colloquial but he included some of the 
features of the colloquial spoken language. And Li Chin-hsi, 
whom I saw in 1973; he's older than I am. He has written 
Kuo-y'u Wen- fa (National Language Grammar) which includes 
all features of spoken grammar; but I think he had also some 
normative ideas—what "s correct and what's not correct. 

RL: How has your work been received in China? 

Chao: There are not many copies there. As far as I know, it seems 
to be quite interesting and I have received no criticism, but 


Chao: there's sure to be many errors here and there and I haven't 

received any list of corrigenda. 

RL: What do you think of [W.A.C.H.] Dobson's work? 

Chao: His work is descriptive, but it's somewhat limited in scope; 

that's my impression. 

I mostly collect materials for my book from what I 
hear—that is primary sources—and from what I read. If I 
feel that the material read represents the actual speech — 
that's most of what's called pai hua. I wouldn't say most, 
but much of what's called written pai hua is not what you 
would ordinarily speak in everyday speech, and I limited 
myself to what really goes in everyday speech. 

Schneider: Was it your intention to have the book used for the teaching 
of the spoken language as opposed to analysis? 


It can't be used as a textbook, but it can be used as a 
reference book by students. It has a fairly detailed index. 

Comments on Modern Linguistics 

RL: What do you think about the development of linguistics since 

Chao: A lot of people are working on the problem of transformational 
grammar. I did have some additions in my language book*— 
just a few paragraphs --on transformational grammar. My present 
feeling is that transformational grammar is in a state of 
transformation. Once you transform some structure, you will 
have some other structure. You try to get at the meaning; you 
try to get at things behind the language. And then, in telling 
about your result, you're still using language. So we go a 
step further behind that; you might quote Ogden and Richards 
idea of "the meaning of meaning." You try to go behind meaning, 
and unless you go into the actual experience, you still use 
language. So when are you going to stop? When do you find 

*Yuen Ren Chao, Language and Symbolic Systems, Cambridge University 
Press, Cambridge and New York, 1968. 


Chao: the roots of things? To be sure as you go along, you do 
find an interest in important features of the meaning of 
language but still in the form of language. 

RL: I wish I had come to you about four years ago when my 

youngest son was hung up for about half the year on the 
question, "How would you explain 'meaning' or 'I mean 1 
to somebody who didn't speak English?" 

Chao: I think in Chinese you do it the same way as in French -- 

je veux dire, wo shih yao shuo. You just change the language; 
you put it in other words. Wo shih yao shuo means literally 
"I am wanting to say." 

RL: Have you found [Noam] Chomsky and his disciples at all helpful 
to you in your work? 

Chao: I haven't made much use of what is written, but much of it is 
very interesting and suggestive. 

RL: If you assigned yourself to any sort of school, whose would 
it be? Would it be Bloomf ield 's? 

Chao: Yes; I think I'm still a structuralist, which is nowadays 
considered out of fashion. 

Schneider: I don't know what psycho-linguistics is, but it seems to me 
that this is one of the latest developments in linguistics. 
Have you any feelings about its growth and what it might mean 
as far as the study of language? 

Chao: I think it's an important feature of the study of language. 
Or you might consider it part of psychology, whether it's 
called linguistic psychology or psycho-linguistics. 

Schneider: Does this development have much to do with the kind of work 
that you've done? 

Chao: As far as I know, I haven't found any important applications. 


Professional Associations 





You've belonged to many professional associations, and I 
wonder if you have any comments on how they have changed 
over the years. I think you were president of the Linguistic 
Society of America in '45 and the American Oriental Society 
in 1960. 

The Linguistic Society, as represented by the general language, 
has added more—of course, it includes transformational 
grammar now, and also it includes more of the less known 
foreign languages, so there are descriptive articles, although 
it is generally not primarily devoted to description of languages, 

I think the same is true in general of the American 
Oriental Society—that it has widened its field— its scope 
in including more languages than it did before. The general 

language originally, when it began, had much more to do with 
Indo-European languages. 

Which associations do you continue to find interesting and 

I think I have more to do with the Linguistics Society 
because in the American Oriental Society they branch out more 
into the areas about which I don't know so much now. 

India and Southeast Asia, and so on? 

The Faculty Research Lecture 



I read with great interest the faculty research lecture that 
you gave in 1967. (Unfortunately, we were away that year, so 
I didn't hear it.) Have you changed your views at all since 
publishing your paper on "Dimensions of Fidelity in Translation 
with Special Reference to Chinese"? 

There may be some difference in the matter of detail, but on 
the whole, I tried to enumerate as many dimensions that can 
be involved. In each dimension there is plus and minus and 


Chao: middle and so forth, so there's room for all views. The 

purpose of that article was to call attention to translators 
who should consider all these factors, and then as to what 
weight to give to each factor — that would depend upon the 
purpose for which the translation is made. I think one of 
the conclusions was that there is no one correct translation 
from language A to language B, depending upon the purpose 
for which the translation is going to be used. 

"Language at Play and Play at Language" 

RL: I understand you were much sought-after as a lecturer. What 
were the main subjects on which you talked to these sometimes 
non-specialist groups? 

Chao: All I can remember is that I often talked about playing with 
language and talking and singing backwards. From that, I 
intended to show how certain sounds are dipthongs (if you 
reversed them, you see the words wouldn't be right), or certain 
consonants are complex consonants and not one single when 
you reverse it. 

It turned out that singing backwards is much easier than 
talking backwards because when you sing, even a syllable with 
several notes, you still have several theoretically level 
notes; you just reverse the tune. Whereas, in talking, every 
syllable itself—even in a non-tonal language like English, 
you have change of pitch within the syllable and you have to 
reverse that change. In most languages, in the final part of 
a non-interrogative sentence or phrase, you would drop way 
down to the very bottom, and it's very hard to reverse because 
when you start from a very low pitch, the tendency is to drop 
first before you go up. So a syllable like "go" [gou]--well 
it has a dip thong and you can reverse the "ou" into "uo" very 
easily. But if you tried to say "uog" it wouldn't reverse right 
because you didn't start low enough, a characteristic feature 
of a concluding intonation which is, I think, universal for 
all languages. It's something that's hard to reverse. You have 
to really start very low--"uog." 

*See Appendix. A tape of this lecture is deposited in The 
Bancroft Library. 


RL: You promised to bring in your tape I 
Chao: Yes. I forgot to bring it with me. 

RL: In this business of speaking and singing backwards, what-- 
apart from the sheer fun and pleasure of it--was your 
didactic purpose? What were you showing? 

Chao: As I was saying, at one of the meetings to find out the 

homogeneity or the complexity of units of sound, which some 
times one takes for granted as one unit of sound. If it is 
one sound, it could be reversed. If it's complex, then the 
order would be reversed. You think of long "a" as one vowel, 
but if it's reversed it becomes "ie" rather than "ei." So 
it shows that the English "a" is a dipthong, whereas the French 
"e"" is one simple sound. 

Or the English consonant "p"--you think it is one sound-- 
"pa." It is not one sound "p" followed by "a"; it is "p" 
plus aspiration plus "a," so that if you reverse it, it has 
to be "a'p," with an aspiration in between. The French "p" 
is a pure, one sound, because it's just a closing of the 

RL: What is the importance of this in linguistic studies? 

Chao: It's mainly for the purpose of analyzing speech accurately. 
The idea of reversing came to me first when I heard a 
recording sent to me by C.K. Ogden, one of the co-authors of 
Basic English years ago in the early 1930s to Nanking. The 
main part of that recording was, I think, about Basic English. 
It was English in reverse. I tried to transcribe it phonetically; 
if I did it right and then read it backwards, it should come 
out as English. When I did transcribe it and read it back, it 
was still unintelligible to me. So I gave up and played the 
record backwards to get the original English. 

Comparing that with my transcription, I was right--! have 
it figured somewhere- -around seventy-five percent. I was 
right about the manner of pronunciation, but I was wrong, I 
think, in fifty-six percent of the cases about the place of 
articulation—whether it was labial or dental or velar and 
so forth. And for intelligibility, the place of articulation 
is more important. That's why still I couldn't understand it 
when I had the words. 


Chao: When the record was played backwards, it was the original 

speech. In fact, originally it was recorded directly as 
ordinary speech. Then it was re-recorded in reverse. I 
wrote a report on that in Chinese in the Bulletin of Institute 
of History and Philology of Academia Sinica.* and later I 
reported on that in English. That started my interest in 
reversed speech. 

RL: Then how did you teach yourself to do these things in reverse? 

Chao: For new stuff, I knew what the text is just from ordinary 
knowledge of the phonetic composition of various sounds in 
various languages. I would have to reverse the complex units 
in the reverse order. Of course, some are hard to say. For 
example, the difference between affricates chi unaspirated 
and ch 'i aspirated is just the difference in the length of 
that fricative part. 

RL: In what language was that? 

Chao: Any language, when you have chi and ch 'i. Ordinarily, in 
the Wade system, for spelling Chinese, you'd have c-h-i 
for "chi" and c-h-'-i for "ch'i." From that you might think 
that "ch'i" consists of ch plus "huh"; there is no "huh 1 to 
it because you use the flattened part of the tongue, and when 
it comes the vowel, you still use the flat part of the tongue. 
There's no room for saying "huh"; so it's really just the "ch" 
part that gets prolonged. So the reverse of "ch'i" [if'.t], 
whereas the reverse of "chi" is [i£t], a short fricative part 
to give you the effect of being unaspirated. That was unexpected 
in the reversal. 

RL: How would you spell those? I'm thinking of the transcriber.' 
Chao: Well, phonetically there is a sign for-- 
RL: Please write it down. 

Chao: I'll first put it down in Wade, "chi" then in parentheses 
I'll give the phonetic spelling. 

chi [tpi] 
ch'i [tp:i] 

*"Transcribing Reversed English," BIHP, Vol. II 205-22, 1930. 


RL: Which of your colleagues were seriously interested in this? 

Chao: Well, those who were interested in phonetics were interested 
in the thing, and always interested in hearing the actual 
demonstration with instruments. 

RL: What do you mean? 

Chao: That is, recording and have the tape reversed. At first we 
did that—before the time of the tape recording--! managed 
to reverse the disc. 

RL: Really! How did you do that. 

Chao: It was possible to move the needle. Ordinarily, you see, if 
you reversed it, the needle would push into the disc, but 
you can reverse that by re-arranging the direction of the 
playing head. 

RL: So it's simply the head with the needle and not the whole 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: Did you do your own mechanical work yourself? 

Chao: Some of it; sometimes my assistant helped me. 

RL: It's a fascinating field because it touches on so many 

Children and Language Study 

RL : I believe you were a pioneer in studying children's language? 

Chao: No, I was never a pioneer but I was interested in child 
language and also I was interested in the speech of my 
cousins. When I was at home in Changchow I noticed their 
differences. One of them had certain characteristics and 
speech defects, and somehow a system of defective speech 
usually has the characteristics of a dialect. There are 
certain phonetic laws you can infer from the speech so that 


Chao: you will be able to make new sentences in that dialect. 

A more detailed study is when I recorded the speech of my 
granddaughter. That was much later.* 

RL: Were you influenced by the work of [Jean] Piaget at all? 
Chao: Somewhat, yes. 

RL: Do you feel that your findings influenced theories of child 
psychology, child development, and language development? 

Chao: Well, I didn't notice that except that, both in the case of 
my children and grandchildren, and in other cases, that 
language can be learned and used and kept up in the right 
environment, and there is no harm in adding a language to the 
child in his general mental development. You see, usually 
there is a theory that when you teach a child another 
language, all that's learned before has been lost and he has 
to start learning everything new. That was because he changed 
from one language to another. But if you add a language to 
another, and keep up the first language, then it wouldn't 

RL: Currently, people are still advising bilingual families to 
drop a language if a child stutters. 

Chao: Yes, if a child stutters, then maybe. 

I haven't done extensive research; I am only interested 
and have observed various cases. In one case, a Danish student 
of mine, living near us, married an American wife and started 
the children with two languages at the same time — the father 
talking Danish and the mother talking English. After they 
went back to Denmark, they kept up the same pattern, and the 
children kept up the same two languages, apparently without any 
adverse effects. 

RL: Did you find your studies of child grammar to be valuable to 
you in your language analyses? 

*"The Canton Idiolect: An Analysis of the Chinese Spoken by 
a 28-month-old Child." Semitic and oriental studies, University 
of California, publications on Semitic philology, 27-44, 
Berkeley, 1951. 


Chao: I haven't done very much with cases of that kind. Of course, 

in most cases of grammar, a child tends to generalize too 
easily, and that in fact I think is one of the causes of 

the change of grammar in a language itself after certain 

RL: Oh, really? 

Chao: Yes. Certain things become generalized that first started as 

General Chinese; A New Language Reform 

Chao: After the war, I started to be interested in what I call the 
scheme or project for a General Chinese, the idea being to 
reduce ten thousand common characters into two thousand, and 
still be able to write most texts with the ordinary characters, 
because eighty percent of the ten thousand occur so infrequently 
that the two thousand would cover more than ninety percent of 
the actual occurrence. 

RL: Has this been usable for general texts? 

Chao: Yes. It would be intelligible and you could compose either 
classical or colloquial Chinese with that text. We're still 
working on it; this is one of the drafts. 

RL: What sort of acceptance has this had? 

Chao: It hasn't been sent to many people except specialists, and 
they have written—one of them, Mr. Li, Li Rong, wrote very 
detailed comments. He's a linguist himself who translated 
the grammar section of my Mandarin primer into Chinese. I 
adopted most of his very good suggestions in the revision 
of this project. 

RL: Where is Mr. Li? 
Chao: He's in Peking. 


Meeting with Chou En-lai. 1973 

RL: I had heard--! don't know if it's accurate — that when you 

went to China last year, that Premier Chou [En-lai] was very 
much interested in the work you are doing on General Chinese. 

Chao: Not specifically this project for General Chinese, but he 
was interested in my linguistic studies in general. 

RL : I don't mean to pry into what may have been a confidential 

conversation, but what sorts of things did you and your wife 
and Chou discuss? 

Chao: About things in general, actually. He asked about things 

some years back, and about how Chinese language teaching was 
being done abroad. Many years ago, when he was a student in 
Nankai, he intended to go to Peking to study when I was 
teaching at Tsing Hua, but because I soon moved into the 
city to interpret for Bertrand Russell, he gave up his plans. 
So, we never met. This time, I thought I should let him know 
that I was in town. It would have been okay if he was too 
busy, but he invited us to a party. 

RL: That's a fascinating story. How had he heard of you, do you 
think, as a young student? 

Chao: I don't know. In those days, I was rather active in connection 
with the Unification of Language movement, and he himself was 
interested in dramatics as a student. Being a very handsome 
student, he sometimes impersonated female parts at Nankai 

RL: It's hard to visualize now. He is extremely handsome, but 
it's hard to see him as delicate. [Laughter] 

Chao: Well, he was in those days. 

RL: What was your impression of him? Obviously, he is an extra 
ordinarily intelligent man. 

Chao: Yes. He seems to be aware of the events of the day, as he 
had to be. 

RL: Did you know of him at all in the twenties and thirties? 


Chao: I knew of his intention to go to Peking (which he didn't), 

but didn't have any direct communication with him. 

RL: Was he aware of the level of Chinese studies in America? 

Chao: Only in a general way, not in detail. 

P'u t'ung hua and Pin yin 


What is the government doing currently about language reform? 
Perhaps one shouldn't use that phrase anymore; I don't know. 

Chao: The use of Mandarin is taken for granted and there has been 
great progress in its actual use. For example, in the radio 
broadcasts, not only in Peking but in Nanking and Canton and 
Shanghai --Canton and Shanghai especially--! noticed that 
nine-tenths of the time, the broadcast was done in Mandarin, 
and only one-tenth in the local dialect. The Chinese term, 
which used to be called kuo-y'u (national language) now is 
called p 'u-t 'ung hua (general speech). In the old days, 
p'u-t 'ung hua meant any way of talking according to the 
dialects north of the Yangtze river, more or less in some 
loose sense, of a sort of Mandarin. Now, that is taken to 
be the standard term instead of kuo-y'u (national language), 
and also the standard took the phonetic system of Peking as 
the standard pronunciation. So p'u-t 'ung hua has now acquired 
a more standard, precise meaning. 

RL: Would you say that it was identical or almost identical with 
the language records that you made in the 1920s? 

Chao: Yes, except the first set, which was that artificial language- 

RL: Is this contribution of yours recognized in China? 

Chao: I suppose most people know. Of course, in China they discourage 
the publicity for individual names. For example, they reprinted 
some of my books—and other books too—with the authors' names 
omitted. I bought a copy of my own book. 

RL: How do you feel about that? 


Chao: I feel that the author's name should appear, not only for 
promoting his name, but also for being responsible for 
whatever errors there might be. 

RL: How about the romanization? 

Chao: The new system is called pinyin. which literally means spell 
sounds, and that system is pretty close to the old system 
except in a few consonants which are rather different from 
the western usage. The letter j for (unaspirated palatal) 
ch--that's very common, in other systems too—the palatal chi. 
But you also have q for the aspirated--f or the (palatal) ch ' 
and "X for hsi, the palatal sort of sound--i.e. the Wade "hs" 
is spelled x. The 1 use of z for ts is common in some of the 
systems, and so is c for ts 1 . In other respects, it's about 
the same as in many other old systems. 

RL: When you say "old" do you mean Latinxua or G.R.? 
Chao: I mean the same as many other systems. 

RL: I'm very interested that you're having the active cooperation 
of a scholar in Peking in this. Is he an old friend or 
colleague of yours? 

Chao: We knew each other first by correspondence and then met later. 
In fact, after translating my grammar chapter in my Mandarin 
primer, he gave me two or three hundred dollars for the rights 
and sent it to my daughter, and she has been keeping that 
there [laughter] all the time. 

RL: Was that your daughter in Shanghai? 

Chao: Not in Shanghai, in Changsha. I have never heard about Li 
for years and she has. [Laughter] This last time we were 
in Peking, we had two all-morning sessions with linguists-- 
about twenty linguists—discussing the idea of the General 

RL: Is the government actively interested in this? 

Chao: Not in an active way. Those who attended were all either 

professors at Peking University or members of Academia Sinica. 

RL: Did you feel any sense of strain with them? 


Chao: I felt quite at ease. Of course, some of them I knew. Some 
of them were my former students. 

RL: What sort of work is going on in linguistics in China? Were 
you impressed with it? 

Chao: I was impressed by the fact that they knew so much of what 

is going on. They had been keeping up with things very well. 
They also continue with the recording of the present state 
of language in various parts of the country. 

RL: Is this going to be an ongoing project, do you think, to 
follow language changes, or will it be completed at some 
point when all the dialects have been surveyed? 

Chao: That survey— the first time we could only do it in outline; 
there are more details, of course. Then, by the time you 
complete it once, there are probably some that will have 
changed already. [Laughter] As for the unification, I don't 
think you would— well, it wasn't intended to abolish the 
dialects. When you promote the general speech, just as in 
the case of France, you still have patois as well as the 
standard speech. 

RL: Did people talk to you at all about their status during the 
Cultural Revolution? Was that discussed? 

Chao: They said very little about the Cultural Revolution. They 
regard that as something that's over, something to get over 

RL: You said they were quite well up on current research. 

Chao: Yes, they subscribed to the western journals and would buy 
the new books. 

RL: And evidently there is enough money budgeted for this. 
Chao: Yes. 

RL: What were the discussions on the level of literacy in China 
at the moment? 

Chao: I don't remember any discussion about literacy. 


RL: Isn't this General Chinese closely tied in with the problems 
of literacy in that it's easier to learn two thousand 
characters than ten? 

Chao: Yes, it would be of help, although not especially meant for 
that. They were going slow about adopting any alphabetic 
form of language, even though there's. a standard way of 
spelling. But they still use the characters — so-called 
simplified characters. The so-called simplified characters 
actually were old simplifications in more than eighty percent 
of the cases. 

RL : From the twenties and thirties? 

Chao: No, old simplifications since the Sung and Yuan. [Laughter] 
There was a book published in 1930 on popular characters 
since Sung and Yuan, which means even before Ming Dynasty. 
Among the simplified character list published now, more 
than eighty percent were popular characters in the Sung and 
Yuan. The only difference is that until recently those were 
popular characters used in maybe popular novels, what they 
considered things fit for women [laughter] to read. If you 
do it in school or in public documents, it would be considered 
in the wrong style. But now, they are made more respectable. 
The actual, additional simplified characters form a small 
minority—less than twenty percent. 

RL: When you say that the General Chinese that you are working on 
is not primarily designed to make literacy easier to acquire, 
what is the primary purpose of it? 

Chao: The primary purpose is to have a system of writing in which 
each character would represent a linguistic form which is 
sort of a least common multiple of the major dialects. There 
were various schemes of similar kinds. There were the two 
Belgian Jesuits—Lamasse and Jasmin in a work they called 
Romanization Interdialectique (Interdialectical Roman iz at ion) , 
published in the early 1930s. They worked in northeast China. 
They were not linguists themselves, so they just adopted 
Karlgren's reconstruction of ancient Chinese for 601 A.D. 
and romanized Chinese. They composed many texts foo for 
teaching purposes. In that system, 601 A.D., it is so long 
ago that many of the distinctions no longer exist anywhere 
in China now. So that is starting too far back, whereas my 
idea of taking two thousand syllables that would account for 



Chao: the major dialects of the last—well, in fact, the current 
status of the major dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese and Wu) . 

I would allow differences in less than twenty percent, 
as I was saying, of running text. We'd have differences 
from the ordinary distribution of characters, but more than 
eighty percent would coincide with what we would write 
anyway. It doesn't limit you to any style because it's very 

RL: How far is it "culture-free" in the sense of being neither 

communist nor classical? I'm perhaps expressing myself badly. 

Chao: Classical and communist are not antithetical. 

RL: Perhaps it would be better to say mainland usage in the last 
twenty-five years, compared with the Nanyang and Taiwan and 
overseas Chinese. Would this be usable by all literate 

Chao: The great majority already are old popular characters; the 

others I think you can guess pretty well from context. That 
is, a newspaper published in Peking, the People's Daily could 
be read by anybody who hasn't been introduced to the new 
system of simplified characters. 

RL: Even if its primary purpose is not to increase the literacy 
rate, do you think it would be useful in teaching? It would 
seem to me to be an enormous advantage. 

Chao: Yes. 

RL: Did you discuss this with Premier Chou at all? 

Chao: I just mentioned it; we didn't go into discussion. 

RL: I understood that your wife also discussed birth control with 
Premier Chou. 

Chao: Yes. Later, she found a lot of materials and sent them over. 
RL: Do you correspond actively now with scholars in China? 
Chao: Occasionally. Some of them have visited here. 


RL: Do you foresee that this present trend toward freer exchange 
and travel will continue? 

Chao: I think so. Of course, they're busy with preparations for 
the People's Congress. But still, at least our relatives 
keep writing fairly frequently. 

Family in China 

RL: I'm afraid I don't know the name of your daughter who is 
married and lives in China. 

Chao: Her married name is Huang; that is my son-in-law's name. 

Pei-Yung is his own name. Then my daughter's American name 
is Nova, but in Chinese it's Xin-na, in the current spelling. 

RL: She and her husband are both teaching, are they? 

Chao: Yes. Her husband is head of the Central South Institute of 
Mining and Metallurgy, and she is head of the Chemistry 
Department of the University. 

RL: How was it to see them after so many years? 

Chao: Well, somehow it seemed more natural than I had expected. 

Even those two grown-up grandsons --twenty-one and twenty-six 
when I saw them—seemed very natural with us and stayed with 
us in Peking for a month. I asked somebody to substitute for 
their work there and then they would return the work after 
they went back. 

RL : Were you asked to return to China, to come and live there 

Cha^: They didn't quite specifically say that, but they said, "We 
hope you will come back again." 

RL: Did you ever get the sense that people were critical of you 
for your decisions to stay in America? 

Chao: Apparently not. They didn't criticize us for changing our 


RL: I know when we went to Israel, on the very last night of our 
stay there, a quite aggressive woman said, "Why do you not 
resettle?" [Laughter] That is Zionist ideology, and it's 
a very difficult attitude to respond to with courtesy. Did 
anybody ever approach you in that sort of way? 

Chao: No. 

RL: How was it that your daughter, Nova, decided to stay or go 
back to China? 

Chao: She and her husband finished here and had job offers in China. 
We were supposed to follow them right away. I was asked by 
Chu Chia-hua to be president of the Central University in 
Nanking, and I wanted to avoid administrative work in any way 
I could. My wife said, "If you're there, it's hard to decline, 
so you'd better stay away." As a matter of fact, Chu sent me 
two telegrams and I declined both times. The third time, he 
telegraphed my wife, "Will you persuade Yuen Ren to accept?" 
She replied, "I never persuade him to do any administrative 
work," We stopped over [in Berkeley] on our way back to China. 
I had already recommended somebody else to take my place at 
Harvard, so we stopped over, and at California we've been 
stopping over [laughter] ever since 1 

Comments on the Chaos ' Trip to China 

RL: We had touched on, in passing, your trip to China last year, 
in 1973. Do you plan to go back there? 

Chao: Yes. I think I'll probably go next year. For this year, 
I'll have to take a long trip to go to the east coast. 

RL: What were the things that struck you most about your trip-- 
the changes and so on? 

Chao: People seemed to be happier and in better shape than I had 

anticipated. They all looked healthy and not fancily dressed 
but well clothed, although children were dressed colorfully- 
all kinds of colors. As to our own relatives, our second 
daughter, Nova, whom we hadn't seen for twenty-seven years, 
still has that high-pitched voice. And the son-in-law, whom 
we hadn't seen for twenty-seven years, was still about the same. 


Chao: The two grandsons --twenty-one and twenty-six--we saw for 
the first time. They seemed to be naturally well-behaved 
rather than especially taught to behave properly in front 
of us. That is true, I think, of most young people we saw. 

On the stage—all the shows we saw—would have people 
acting dramatically and pointing and gesticulating and 
talking loudly and quickly, but we never saw that in life 

One thing that impressed me was that hundreds of 
bicycles would be piled up on the sidewalks and none of them 
was locked. Apparently, there is not enough stolen to need 
a lock. And when a rider of a bicycle hits somebody on the 
street, he stops right away and asks, "Did I hurt you?" 

We saw mostly Peking city and Nanking and my hometown, 
Changchow, and Shanghai, and Canton. 

Schneider: I was going to ask how the food was. [Laughter] 

Chao: The food was excellent. Very cheap. Cheap from their 

standards too, because people, at least in our class — teachers — 
could never spend the money they earned ; they had to leave 
the money in the bank. Because there they have rations for 
various things, so you can't spend all the money you make. 
As an example, in the big hotel we stayed in (Ch'ien Men Hotel), 
for western style of food, we'd start with full variety of 
things for hors d'oeuvres. We'd have soup of various kinds, 
and a fish or shrimp course and then a meat course (three 
pork chops or half a chicken) and then dessert and coffee, and 
cream and butter and so forth. How much do you think it costs? 

RL: I don't know. 

Chao: A wild guess. [Laughter] 

RL: Five dollars? 

Chao: Two dollars Peoples' money, which is one dollar American money. 
And with the salary— for example, my son-in-law, as head of 
an institute, receives a salary of two hundred and eighty, 
I think— something like that. My daughter has a salary of 
one hundred and eighty, and they couldn't spend all the money 
they make. 


RL: What was the atmosphere like in the universities? 

Chao: I haven't visited any classes. University people there were 
just like you would find anywhere else. Some of them were 
my former students, and the head of Peking University used 
to stay in our house in Cambridge, Mass. Of course, it's 
no more a missionary university; Yenching University building 
has been used by the Peking University. Tsing Hua University 
is the college of science and engineering of Peking University. 
I visited there and still recognized some of the old buildings, 
although they added more buildings there. 

RL : To add to Larry's question, was the food still as regional? 
Could you get Cantonese specialties in Canton, and so on? 

Chao: Yes, it was regional, but less so, perhaps, slightly than 
before. But the unification of the language movement has 
gone very fast. In the radio broadcasts, they use Mandarin, 
of course, in the northern provinces, but in Shanghai, nine- 
tenths of the time it was in Mandarin; only one-tenth of the 
time was it in the Shanghai dialect. And the same is true 
of Canton- -nine -tenths of the time in Mandarin and one-tenth 
of the time in Cantonese. 

RL: That would assume that people can understand; would you also 
expect that ninety percent could speak in Mandarin? 

Chao: You would go to a store in Shanghai and they would talk 

Mandarin, unless you started talking Shanghai dialect. On 
Grant Avenue in San Francisco, in some of the bigger stores, 
you can start in Mandarin and they'll answer back in Mandarin. 
The new term for Mandarin now is p'u-t 'ung hua (general 
speech) . 

The term p'u-t 'ung hua used to mean any non-local, some 
sort of northern type of speech with various local accents. 
But now, it's used as a technical term and means the standard, 
and they've taken the pronunciation of Peking as the standard. 
P'u-t 'ung hua is now the technical term for the standard of 

RL: And would it be fair to say that that is Chao's speech, based 
on the records you made in the twenties? 

Chao: I don't think that's fair because I was using the speech of 
the city of Peking as a basis when the committee decided on 





that as the standard. That standard has never been changed; 
only they changed the term—instead of kuo-yli (national 
language), they call it p 'u-t 'ung hua (general speech). 

However, wasn't it your records that spread knowledge of 
this-- » 

It did help; I hope it did help, 
teaching everywhere. 

But there were schools 

Schneider: What do you expect to be doing, other than enjoying yourself, 
on your next trip to the mainland? 

Chao: I didn't see enough of all the places I visited, and some 
places I didn't visit I would like to visit again. In my 
hometown of Changchow, for example, I spent only one day at 
a special meeting of people of different generations talking 
in the local dialect, and I was surprised that there was 
relatively little change in the pronunciation. Of course, 
there were the new terms about new things; that's a different 
story. As far as pronunciation is concerned, I couldn't tell 
any difference. And I didn't sound foreign to them. [Laughter] 

Summing Up 





Is there anything else you would like to say about your years 
here at the University? 

I used to be able to say I have lived in Peking longer than I 
have lived anywhere else; then I would say I lived in Cambridge, 
Mass, longer than anywhere else; then I'd say I lived in Nanking 
longer than anywhere else. Now I can say I have lived in 
Berkeley, California, longer than anywhere else. I feel really 
at home in the city of Berkeley and the University. 

You brought up two generations of Chinese girls—your own four 
girls and your granddaughter, Canta. I would like to ask 
what principles you and your wife had in mind in the upbringing 
of your daughters. 

We have always been speaking Chinese at home, but we never 
tried to make them patriotic Chinese citizens; all of them 


Chao: are American citizens, as a matter of fact. For myself, at 
least, I am very much international-minded. In my high 
school days, when I read Myers History of the World, in 
which he proposed the idea of a world state, I decided I 
wanted to sign up as a world citizen. In being with our 
children, we never emphasized either their being U.S. citizens 
or Chinese citizens, but we were always very much interested 
in things cultural and linguistic in Chinese, and they didn't 
have to be told what to think. 

With our granddaughter, Canta, we kept up her Chinese 
speech at home until she went to school, and she learned 
English in no time—went to nursery school and started talking 
English with Grandma, and Grandma said, "Grandma don't under 
stand English." "What are you saying now?" [Laughter] We 
did keep up her language, but she found it something artificial, 
something that was only used at home and with a few friends. 
When she was less than ten years old, I think, we brought her 

to Taiwan and she said, "Oh, there is really a place where 
people do talk like thatj" [Laughter] It was a real language. 

But in the eastern cities where her parents are living 
in the Boston area, there are more families where the children 
do speak Chinese, and she found the language more real there. 

Here, of course, the Chinese that you hear is Cantonese, 
and she didn't understand that. 

RL: I don't know if you know, Larry, that all four of the Chaos 1 
daughters have Ph.D.s--two mathematicians, and a chemist and 
then Iris' degree is in music. This is a record attained by 
very few.' I wondered if you had any theories that you put 
into practice that resulted in this success story. 

Chao: I'm not saying. [Laughter] 

RL: Would you have brought the children up the same, do you think, 
if you'd had sons? 

Chao: I can't tell you why I should have brought them up differently. 
Possibly, sons are more independent, and when they're old 
enough, they choose their own direction. 

RL: Do you feel that you strongly influenced your girls? Your 
implying that you feel you had a stronger influence on them 
perhaps because they were girls and not boys. 





Schneider ; 



I don't know. We didn't try to influence them. We did very 
little direct teaching—how to behave and so forth. 

Had you changed your ideas at all when you had Canta to 
bring up? 

I don't think that we treated her any differently from her 
aunts and mother. 

Thank you very much. In the appendix material, Larry, I 
thought we might use one of Mr. Chao's famous Green Letters. 

I don't know what a Green Letter is. 

Here's an example. First, second, third Green Letter. I 
have been preparing my fourth Green Letter since 1925. 

What are they about? 

About various things—everything. I also collect proverbs and 
sayings, not for keepsake but to see what I can do with them. 
Here is a little of what I've undone: A friend in debt is a 
friend you bet. The loud tie betrays the vacant purse. Fine 
leather makes fine boots. Where there's a swell, there's a 
sway. Loaf, and the world loafs with you; sweep, and you 
sweep alone. Woo as you would be won by. (This one Bertrand 
Russell liked very much— woo as you would be won by.) Timidity 
is the daughter of convention. Two heads are better than three. 
Four lips are better than two. Familiarity breeds attempt. 
(Recently I saw that in Saturday Review.) Shrink before you 
squeak. No smack without fire. There's nothing new under the 
moon. They usually tell about my comings and goings and travel 
and so forth. 

I'd like to see those, and I'd like to see your fourth Green 
Letter too'. 

I'm preparing that, but I think I need these for my work 
right now. I can let you have one of these of which I have an 
extra copy. Yes, the first Green Letter, I have two copies. 
That is 1921. 

Was that your wedding announcement as well as a newsletter? 


Chao: No. That was April, 1921, just before our marriage. 
RL: By the way, why did you call them "Green Letters?" 
Chao: That was the only reason. 

RL: That the outside was green? [Laughter] I'm always looking 
for hidden meanings within meanings within meanings. I 
should perhaps ask you if, amongst your scores of hundreds 
of puns, have you got a favorite? 

Chao: I can't tell. [Laughter] 
RL: Thank you very much. 
Chao: It's been my pleasure. 

Academia Sinica, Taiwan - 1960s. Front row: Mr. and 
Mrs. Chao; Hu Shih next to Mrs. Chao; Li Chi, second 
from right. 

China, 1973, with Premier Chou. From left to 
right: .Huang Pei-yung, son-in-law; Y.R. Chao; 
Nova Xinna Chao, daughter; Chou Pi-yuan, Pres 
ident of Pei Ta; Mrs. Chao; Kuo Mo-jo, Presi 
dent of Academia Sinica; Chou En-lai. 

Public lecture, Taiwan - 1960s 

In front of portrait of Sun Yat-sen. 

Taiwan - 1959 

The Chaos with Chou Pi -yuan 

Appendix A: First "Green Letter", Peking, 1921 



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Appendix B: . 222 

LANGUAGE AT PLAY, Wny. Are. See. January, 1971 -1- 

1. Making Sense Out of Nonsense: The Story of My Friend Whose 
"Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously"' (after Noasi Chomsky). 
I have a friend vho is always full of ideas, socd idegs and 

bad ideas, fine ideas and crude ideas, old ideas and nev ideas. 
Before putting his new ideals into prentice, he usually sleeps 
ove:* them to let them mature nnd ripen. However, vnen he is in 
a. hurry, he sometimes puts his ideps into pi'&ctlce before they 
are quite ripe, in other words, vhile they ar-e still green. 
Some of his green iceps ar-e quite lively and colorful, but not 
slvrys, sciue belnr. quite plair. end colorless. When he remembers 
that sowe of his colorless iders Pi-e ctill too ^reen to use, he 
vill sleep over ti zn. or let. them sleep, cs he puts it. But some 
of those idcps c:-y be muturlly conflicting find' contradictory pnd 
vhen they sleep together in the sriv.e ni^ht they {jet into furious 
firhtc ?i)d turf, the sleep intc r ni^hter rs. Thus my friend often 
conpl*v:.ijs that h-o colorless c;: een idefs sleep furiu'js]y. 

2. /• Study in Zeroes: 

T'ere vrs f youn^; girl fros: Mont., 
\«'hon) everyor-.e c?lled "Oh, f'us . " 
It's P l.'ttle too long. 
But the r.rr.e's in tlie son^,. 
cl she liked it much 'n ;]ust : . " 

' t r 7?anerr 1 in /-r-33. 

A nephev v?:_ heir end be;:;. 

V/hen the rrnch becrrce his. 

iie shou oc-cl : "Gecvhiz .' 
Ecv I ':r. rerliy the : I '•;; .'" 

There vrs pn old boo!; of te.n pp. , 
Contrininr " ; >^e vilsdom of cy. 

But to le<--rn it by h.eFrt. 

Be ycu over so si^sr-t.. 
You rs-d it. for .^rd 

The Chinese Irn^urge r;e&cis no COAJ. 
It. joins voros. vordo, s^ns co:;;r. 

But es for the v., 

Liite irs-:!icir:r«l 
We tre.v t it vith rve pnd isuclv 

Ssch poet hr;C hj s pt. of v., 

Though he offer." not. much the t li r: . 

.^s for nine, it lr- one 

Vhic3i is really C. 
I, I li>e jo thj. L Tvry, thoutf'.., :Jc- 

>. FlVB Stories in <^ursi Hc 

(1) Stpr~ ii: syileble sh ih , gnc^. 'Bri_t. rrticle on Chinese, ii)60. i 

(2) chi/ ibid., article 0^1 Chinese, 13^3. 

(>) ^, Cc.Mier'3 Erjcl. pr-t. or, Chinese; 1?54. 

( i3» ccllpb^r-^ tion vita Tro Kirrr) 
(A) hsl, Chr-o, L^r.-. & £z^- ?y stems, 

Crribr-idge fJTC.';, ;,. l?0. 
(5) " « « oh'i 

II . Four j>tor les in Qua si jloiaophortes 
"^ist Toces tUMnsrkedJ" 

(!) ?cS ^^ i% "i N / ^" / ^f f^ 7 


Story of Stone Grotto Peal; Eating Lions 

Stone Grotto po3t Shin "by name v;as fond of lions and swcre 
hs would eat teri lions. The roan from tl^a to tine ^ent tc the cer- 
ksfc to look at lions t to hen „ at ten o°cloeV he went to the isai»ket 
it! that ten 3.ions vent to the i2uri:?t. At this ti~:s ths 
Ban lookcc £t the ten lions and B relying en the moasnta of tan stone 
arrows p caused the t0n lions to depart f3*oa this T?crldc. The ican 
piclzad these ten lions 8 bod:lss and went to the stone grotto. The 
ston«j grotto was 'rot £.n<2 he nad.e the servant try to vrips the stone 
grotto. The stone grotto having been wi]>ed & ths E&n began to try 
to eat the ten liens" bodies » Uhen he ate theiL he began to real 
ise that those ten lions bodies were really ten stcne lions bodlas e 
New he bsgan to understand that that v;as the fact of the case* Try 
sr;d explain this setter* 

SB. "if * ! Ji" It. ^-- 1 fi' " 

i^ . . -f 

of Fasished Chickens Asss 
on the Ridge of s (Fly ins) Ms chine 
Chio-Ln chiclCo chi&iz&nsk Chiclrens,, chick, chick l 
Several chickens squeezed c.nd assembled or. tho E^ohine's ridge, 
The cachins T7as eztreacly sv> r iftj the chickens estrszely famished.. 
The chickens surmised their skill was sufficient to strike scaie perch. 

The machine havirig crossed the suburbs of Chi 


The chickens rec-konsd the svrift i;s;chin2 should stir 

up sevsr&.I perch. 

The Kiachine was swifts the perch extremely scared. 
Hastily they squeezed and assembled in the interstices 

of stone steps. 

Subsequently tVie perch°s t:raoes were extremely silent e silent. 
Subsequently tho chiclcsnSc, sir.cs still feaishtd, said chick P ohtckl 



Bf'Einlscenees of How AUKC I ves Cured 

Aunt I felt depressed. She changed hsv clothes end reclined 
on ti chair. Her Idas vres to suspect of so:-™ sti-sjige sic.inescc. 
She should visit a >icctc.?r The doctor's icu?. ras that one should 
trer.t the east's cic'ines.;. *.?itfc the rancre^r of ants. Ha tool: 
lOOpOOOcOOO arrears and h:int<ui lC-G COO c Ono .-irits. The ants one by 
ons diod. Their :;aad- 2 ase£ overflowed. Tne doctor rcaoved the 
pancreases unS treated th«3 t:tii7t 8 s sic>nc;T/ ;?:ith them. The aunt ; o 
siclmejiy *..v.-3 thsraby cur-d. She \;as ^oyr'ul and presented her dcctor 
with a foreign rarnisnt. The dootor ^ut en tho foreign garment 
aad was joyful,, too. Yea! ths doctor too;: 100 1 GOO € 000 ents 9 
p^iicreu£-cs to cure Aimt I°s sicl-ness, vrac.'i't that t7onder:ral? - £ unt I 
pr scant ad th-3 dc.-ctor uith £ forc-igii 3am»c-«it v.^sn't tli£it even vore 
wonderful c too? 


fe »* »• I'.*"* . 

fe 4 * 4 &' t; 

Hsi Esi Plays v/th tho Fi 
West Creek Rhinossros enjoys ronpinj; and p3.°ying 
Ksi Psi every moi-r.ins takes rhir.ocsrrii to play. 
Ksi Hsi oetieul&usly p:--acticc-s 'rrcshJiiS vhinooerose 
Rhinoceros sucl:s Ojr<2ftk 6 playfully attacks Hsi. 
Hei Rsi, laughing e hopss to sto;.- playing. 
Too tc.d rhinoceros t risia-hii?E» enjoys attacking K.?i 

- 'i 

01:1 Man Chi's Wives 

The old artn of Ch : i had seven v?ivee. Kis r:ives 
thre:; s.--?ay his lacquer ware. The old san of Ch-i ;?as 
anr^y anl, abandoning his seven t?.'ves r rode away on a 
uniccvn. The sev-sa wives cried, tagging him to regain 
in CiT'i, T173 old mun of Ch ; i sadl.y rested his anger 
rnd rsnained in Ch'i. 

/> MOTE OF AK OLD CARROL MANUSCRIPT Y. R. C. ?iot for Publication -4 

Shortly after the centennial of the publication of Alice's ." fi v ?n tures 
*_ri_ l, r c;.-iQerlpJ3_d t I visited tha Widsner Librpry of Harvard University to 
Took up some points of punctuation in " Jobber voc Icy" in the veil-knotTO 
Carr'i^nnp Collect: on rnrl, to ray £rep.t surprise and delight, I dis 
covered an earlier text, all in Dtnsel Cnrr 's characteristic hand 
writing, of which the vert 5 on as I hpo plvpys laiovis it seemed 
to have been p b»diy corrupted epricp. ture. A^o voncler Euin.: ty Dumpty 
h»d to go to grer t lengths in his belpbcred etyisologies vhen he tried 
to ex pi P. in non -ex latent words like brillig, rnd'' Kov, vith this 
origin. ! before rue, vh« t could be more r^tioml thr'n s boodbcrg i:rit- 
inp Chinese hoa:opho:.ies in the v-'r-ce system of ronpuiz.-tSon? You see, 
being r loolcing-glrss cr-eeturs., Hiiuspty Dunipty VPS not pv?i*e thrt b 
VPS simply the njirror iiv^te of d_. I h"d to copy the poem in p hurry 
vith pp^er nna psni'l, rr it vrc rcirr'rg closing time ana I h«a to 
stop. Whrt r.bugh rer.irin'j to be discovered ./ill h^ve to be left to 
future sdventur-3s nr.iong- trie vuriedi ted n^s of Jol-n 5. Carrol, vhose 
repl nfuie^ PO everyone knbvf?, VJPS Charles Ci^riFtl?>:i Doubles, "o I pm 
going to re?d to you nov the crigi.npl, urj corrupted text, rediscovered 
by me end published for -he first tiise, of — not Jpbbervscky — but: 

•TVPE booc-berg, end the sliding tones 

Did hoije.v pnd hr-vgen* in th& v/?--de; ^ These vcre loan words 
y*ll senieiiie verc tlis homophones, fron: Old 

>-nd eiv.sDCPUS outgrrde. 

Bevr-r-e the Jakobsciv ny vrrrd.'^ ^ Jg bb er-v o c_l: , cy soa 

The joos th? t ;-i-:e ; tri-? hnmp thst hrssJ obviously ^ corruption 

Bevpre the voegelin bi.v-d and shen through u-ets thesis. 

The friesi.rn bender cross. 1 

took the vocpl coras in hr-hn : 
Loiig tjme or I-i--ll:iel Ilii?, he fought, 

?-o reifler-li by the sebeolc~ tree, ^T^ke the ioin refid.'.ng, in 

lie hocked tvpdaell in thought. rec?uplicr~ted forn:. The 

IEC rise shcvecl another 

•'•nd PS in Edgertcr, Kr-11 he hocked, reading: Tung Tung _tree, 

The Jpkooson, vith milk of cowrn. r-r. oleoferous ti-ee of 

'/his telling through the tr-~per smith ?orsoc?i, growing on the 

. f -nc buffploec 33 j r CVOVK. b«nks of the Tung Tung H< 

One, ti/o. ! One tvo. ! .^ud hu is hu? 

The vep'DP-1 bloch vent he-cue- -poc . T 
He househeld Prsa, rr,C. vith his sle-dd 

He gle?soned to ICroebEr's Lscke. 

hrrrist thou Icne the oAJcobsozi? 
Come to ir.y holnies, ir.y bes! c-i»cir: bey' 
Oh, vhitfield d?y.' Kur-eUi; Go"-re. f 

Hs chortled 1 in hie joy.' i: Accord ing. to Kurpth, this 

VPS r dialect, v'orcl of 

'Tv.'a.E boodberg, end the sliaiug ••??>-£ £E Unit-cc rtstsr, . vhere 

Did hoi jer pncl h?u^en in the \;Fd-i.: is diphthor.ised »s [cc] . 

All seinsre vere the hoi^oplic-nsE; \ 

p. r. T> .7 "' « Y . _ 3 1 1 o vih or i =" 

IlOVc :.J«i 


to Jp 




C*rr, Den z el 
Boooberg, Peter 7*. 
Fpper, Karbs-i-'t H. 
Perzl, Herbert 

16 Vhp tvcou-r.L, j'osivdf 

17 Carroll, Joh^ 3. 

13 Chrl tier: . . C . Doug3.p s 
Vsrse r^-jig 

1 iloijer, Ksrry 
t-'';n~en 'EMtisv'. 

w.^«:} —> ^ V*J /, M!^U*M ' — 

Eireiie-su, iJurrf -y B. 

2 jE.ko"C3cn.« P.oio^n 
IferiL, Rrlph L. 

Pike, ICe-nsth L.& 5'.unioe 
isar^p, iLric ?. 
ri?a&i i':ar-y It. 
Voegelin, Chrrlet: F. 
E::r-d. I'O^^ie /'• . 
Slier;, y?>c 

Barxler, S^rse-st 
Cross, jT^h-'^is; 

S?:hn e E. Adeleido 


- . 

I-islkiei, ^ph 

3 Re if lor, Er-vin 
Li, Fan^-kuei 
Sebeok, Thoisas £ . 
JElocket-i., Charles F. 
T VP d d e 1 1 > *** . Fr e crss n 
Ecigor '-on, Franklin 

4 Us 13. Rotert /» . , Jr. 

E:.vdvhiBtel, Eay L. 
f ; .'Npie^, George L. 
f.aith, Henry Lee 
Ke^ovn, Kor-iann f\. 

5 Hu, Uhih 
^loch, Bern? re 
hocus-pocus (theory) 
Hou33hoider-, Fr-ec VJ. 

Sl£d"- JcS"GS E. 

Gls&s oii ^ Henry A . , Jr . 

Locke, V.'iliiaa K. 

6 5rri*is, Zellig S. 
L^-nSj Geor-ge S. 
I-Iolces, Ur-bsn T. 
Bi-el^r, I'-raison S. 
Elcccif ield, L"son.»rd ^ 
Viiitrielc, Francis J. 
Kursth, H--JQC 

Corre- .AlPii D. 

r^te J; CJ5 n r;£- ; F-UJ.1 

' - T c *' ***-ii r' V T3 

«-»!.£• -i wAi-^O, i. . n» 



(1) Er&apies of looking at things in reverse. 

(2) Transcribing Reversed Engliahp BIHP 2 2 205=>223 (1930), 
with HKV CC l?59bs Sir Richard Paget's Imitation of George Bernard 

(3) Tort of reversed Shaws I am aeited to giva you a specimen 
of epotca English. But first „ lot ma give you a warning, /""if 
you havo haard my reins befora^ you 7 will have no difficulty. 
You have juct to Changs the speed £ of your gramophone_/ p until 
you recognise the x r oioe< you rttEsabcsr., 3ut what are you to do if 
you have never heard ELS? Well^ I can givs you a hint that will 

If what you hear is vary disappoint liiT fi and you feel 
stinotively^ that must be horrid ES..I C you nsy^qulte sure the 
speed is KTongo Slow it down until you feel that you are listen^ 
ing to fcn eraiable gentleman of sev-saty^oue 6 trith a rather pleasant 
Irish voice,, then that is Eie All the other people whom you hear 
at the other speeds are impoBters sham Shs^s,, phantoms „ who never 
exist ed 

{&) Whet is ons eound (o&gmsnt)? ehuch, sls D but church, 

(5) "Long vowels"; sauco cease „ but bab8 known e 

(6) Clear and dark }.s miiks klim; aiis loin v not lln) 

(7) Aspiration; 

fctaseat tar: art stars arts 

Ton tutaur tc- teota? fcu^tenta ton tuteur; tous tes 
traits tentatifo tcsfifcsrent ton tentateur. 

(8) Tone and infcoaaticm the Chinese numerals from 1 to 10. 

(9) PalidroFi&ss Graphioi Able ras I er.e I saw Elb& n 

Phone t lot Madam „ I. am A 

Did you say ws are dead p Bob? 
Bob c dead t are you? 

W3 did, 

(10) Shat? c s sj^eeoh reversed and re^reverseds ditsizgirav&nuh. . 


(11) Valua of notes: scale l&grato and scale slurred by twos. 

(12) Scooping and anticipation., 

(13) Picuio music rovere&d. 
Singing in reverse. 

Appendix C: Bibliography 










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of the Institute o 




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K'o-hsueh] Scien 






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1 S 

Aspects of Chinese Sociolinguistt- 

fe /^ *}|? t 1^ f [Textbook for National Language 
rds]. Shanghai: Commercial Press. [Also the reco: 
•5 & 1* *(7 *f *£ [Study of the National Romanizatior 
1 >•] Kuo-yii Yueh-k'an [National Laneuaee Monthlvl 1 


: S 









t- -«» 











by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)]. 
hai: Commercial Press, xxxi, 192 p. (Reprinted 

f £/*] ^ fffc*] ^.j* [Experimental study of Chinese 
tones], jffl 7: 9. 871-82. 

bjections to romanizing Chinese. Chinese Students 

iiy. 18:7.24-9. 
iples of romanization. Chinese Students Monthly 18: 


~ Rl § 

•o 21 •« 

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g in Chinese. Le Maitre Phone*tique (Paris) 39. 9-10 
nograph Course in the Chinese National Language. 

lai: Commercial Press, xxii, 288 p. [Also pronoun 
3 records. ] 
Green Letter. 61-84 p. (Privately published. ) 

$ -k £§ [A sketch of a science of symbolology]. KH 

•91; 11:11.1477-97. 
H f •* U Bj fa W*fJC [Studies In the particles of 
, Soochow, and Changchow]. The TsinK Hua Journal 

f f))tft$ $# [Phonetic dictionary of the National 
ige], Shanghai: Commercial Prose. 

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(M) £. f |f 4f* * 4 [Children's Festival Songs 
T'ao Hsing-chih]. Shanghai: Commercial Press. 

ftf) 7fi,*M^ fr<74* T <t f I3| Si [On the Russian system 
romanization]. Kuo-yii Chou-k'an 159. 

*1 T «- ^ * "^ '3 ) lEiegy for the late Liu Fu]. I< 
fcrQHfe^ ttf >t •* ^- [New textbook for National 
Records]. Edition A, in National Phonetics; Edit 
National Romanization. Shanghai: Commercial P 
[Also the records.] 
£Tf'tl *£ fg. 3'^ ^ z- if'} [Three examples of the di 
nature of speech defects, with English summary]. 











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BIHP 5:4.515-20. 

Types of plosives in Chinese. Proceedings of the 

International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, ed. 

Jones and D. B. Fry, 10G-10. Cambridge: Cam! 
University Press. 
J! ft^ll £° [What a broadcast speaker should kno 
Nanking: Ministry of Education. 12 p. 
(M) ^\^f -fc [Song for the Children's Year, woi 
Yen- Yin]. Nanking: Ministry of Education. 
A critical list of errata for Bcrnhard Karlgren's : 

la Phonologic Chinoise. Quarterly Bulletin of Chi 

liography 3.139-51. 


















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Tshangs-dbyangs-rgya-mtsho, translated by Yu Tao-ch'uan, 
transcribed by Chao Yuen Ren, with English introduction], 
Acadcmia Sinica Monograph, Series A. No. 5. Peininff: 

Academia Sinica. xi, 204 p. 
[Chinese] Music. Symposium on Chinese culture, ed. bv 

Sophia H. Chen Zen, 94-111. Shanghai: China Institute of 
Pacific Relations. 
A note on 'Let's'. Le Maitre Phone'tique 46.4-5. 


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in Mandarin]. KYCK 25. 

-;i * 7; •?& «<§. £_ [General tables of National Phonetic Aloha- 

bet]. Peiping: Ministry of Education, Committee on Unifica 
tion of the National Language. 

Tone and intonation in Chinese. BIHP 4: 2. 121-34. 

A preliminary study of English intonation (with American 
variants) and its Chinese equivalents. BIHP [Special un- 


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tems. BIHP 4: 4. 363-97. [Reprinted in Readings in Lln- 

guistics. ed. bv Martin Joos, 38-54. Washington, n r. . 
American Council of Learned Societies, 1957.] 
The idea of a system of Basic Chinese. Quarterly Bulletin 

of Chinese Bibliography 1:4.171-83. 

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Character text for Cantonese primer. Cambricl 

Harvard University Press. 112 p. 
(With Yang Lien-sheng). Concise dictionarv of 

nese. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Universitv 
xxxix, 301 p. 
(Tr) Autobiography of a Chinese woman, bv Buv 

Chao. [With introduction and footnotes by Y. R 
New York: John Day Co. 
Report on language education to Unesco. Fundr 

cation; Common grounds for all peoples. [Rep 

cial Committee to the Preparatory Commission 

Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Or 















The MacMillan Company. 
Mandarin primer, an intensive course in spoke 

Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 
(Cf. 1956c.) 
Character text for Mandarin primer. Cambrid 

Harvard University Press, iii, 142 p. 
(With Ting Sheng-shu, Yang Shih-feng, Tung T' 
Wu Tsung-chiJ.'.e^c.'B-Ss^ \ %« % [Report on sui 
Hupeh dialects]. Academia Sinica Monographs 

Commercial Press, vii, 1574 p. + 68 maps + 
The voiced velar fricative as an initial in Mand 
Maitrc Phonetinue 113.2-3. 

L'efficacite de la langue chinoise comme systei 
lique. Translated by Eithne Wilkins from the ] 
efficiency of the Chinese language as a symboli 
Reflections on our age, Lectures delivered at t 

session of Unesco at tho Sorbonne Universitv P 

New York: Columbia University Press, 
^ ^ -^ Z [The Chung-shan dialect], BIHP 20, 

Review of Human behavior and the principle of 


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<. •? >t- V* * t '" **• M ai [Problems of unification of w: 
and divergence of dialects]. U 1? ? t* Chien-kuo P'ing- 

[Reconstruction Review] 1:5.7-8. 
-% 6 fc •? ii£ [The Music of Huang Tzu]. .< 'A t(L Ta-kui 

[L'Impartial] (Literary Section). 
Yunnanfu. the Peiping of the Southwest, Pan-Pacific i 
6-8; 17-18. 
(Tr, with Li Fang-kuei and Lo Ch'ang-p'ei) ^ g) '1 f | 
?iv [Etudes sur la phonologie chinoise, by B. Karlg 

xliv + 731 + map. Preface by Fu Szu-nien, Kunming. 
[Reprinted by the Commercial Press, Shanghai, 1948. 

A note on an early Logographic Theory of Chinese wri 
HJAS 5:2.189-91. 

Distinctions within ancient Chinese. HJAS 5: 2. 203-33 
Pavipw nf Grammata Sfirioa. bv Bernhard Karlerren. 


Iambic rhythm and the verb-object construction in Chi 
Studies in Linguistics 2:3.1-2. 

Languages and dialects in China. The Geographical J< 

102:2.63-66. [In this volume, pp. 21-25.]* 
(M) Star-Spangled San-min, a Study in Harmonized So 1 
eignty. (Privately circulated. ) 
Foreword. Introduction to pronunciation. Mathews' C 
English Dictionary, Revised American edition, v, ix-: 

Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press. 
Review of Chinese Sentence Series Records, by Walte: 

Simon [Chinese pronounced by C. H. Lu]. HJAS 8.36' 

The logical structure of Chinese words. Lg 22. 4-13. 
this volume, pp. 260-74.] 
A project for legible speech. (Mimeo. ) 

Cantonese primer. Cambridge. Mass. : Harvard Unl 

Press; London: Oxford University Press, vil, 242 p. 
*This and future references refer to Aspect 

Chinese Sociolinguistics 


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No. FP 8002. [Chinese pronunciation, in colla 
Rulan Chao Plan. ] (Cf. 1948a. ) 
Tone, intonation, singsong, chanting, recitativ 
position, and atonal composition in Chinese. I 
Jakobson, ed. by Morris Halle, 52-59. The H 

A note on Chinese scales and modes. Or i ens : 
r>h< na — T.ancruacrp. Encvclooaedia Britannica 

r Ai™«ef = rhinn — T.nntruage. Encyclopaedia 

5.567-71 (I960).] 
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during the launching at Sasebo, Japan.) [Woi 
Tung. ] 
1. The morphemic status of certain Chinese ton 
tj nn p «f thp international Congress of Orients 

4.44-48. Tokyo and Kyoto: Toho Gakkai. 
.. Subsyllabic imitation between two Chinese di; 
ootimiR «f t"<> Tntprnational Congress of Orie 

4.126-27. Tokyo and Kyoto: Toho Gakkai. 
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in idiolect: an analysis of the Chinese spoken 
.-~v* ,,tfc_«iH ohilH Spmitic and Oriental 

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md their correlates, by Roman Jakobson et al 

Philology 8:1.40-46. 
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i Sinica] 1. 117-28. [Special issue in honor of 
s 60th birthday.] Taipei, Taiwan: Academia 

^^M, or^hivincr Tntprnational Journal of An 

uistics 20:2.87-88. 
r^ir-oco fframmnr and loeic. Philosophy Easl 

.31-41. [In this volume, pp. 237-49.] 
in i-vnjniajTo ->nrl how it Is acaulred. Cybernetl 
ions of the 10th Conference, 49-67. New Yor' 

acy Foundation. 

terms of address. Lg 32: 1.217-41. [In this 

pp. 309-42.] 
„ prnrnqMisiteR to a specchwrlter. Journal oj 

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Preliminary design for a system of General Chi 
Book of the American Philosophical Society, 47: 

delphia, Pennsylvania: The American Philosop 
Contrastive aspects of the Wu dialects. Lg 43. 
Contrasting aspects of the Wu dialects. In this 
pp. 34-47.] 
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Associate editors: Yuen Ren Chao, Richard B. 
Joseph K. Yamagiwa. The Hague: Mouton. xi 
Chemical analogies in Chinese grammatical sti 
honor TComan Jakobson. Essays on the occasio 

covontiMh birthday 11 October 1966. Volume I 

The Hague: Mouton. [In this volume, pp. 377 
Dimensions of fidelity in translation. Faculty 
Lecture, University of California, Berkeley, ^ 
[ Mimeo. ] 

R^rtincrs in sayabls Chinese. San Francisco: 

Publications. [Reprinted by Spoken Language 
Ithaca, N.Y., 1974—.] Vol. I: (incl. autobic 
1900), xv + 200; Vol. H: Chinese translation 
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223 p.] 
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University Press, xv, 240 p. [French versic 
Ht systemes svmboliques, tr. by Louis-Jean 

Pavnt 2S4 n. Spanish version: Iniciaclon a 

tr." by Maria Dolores Moreno. Madrid, 1975 
A frrammar of spoken Chinese. Berkeley: U 

California Press, xxxi, 847 p. 
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;cho\v (Kiangsu) for chanting poe 
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o-pin's 65th birthday] 4.467-72. 
and phonetic aspects of ] ; nguisti 
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language. Encyclopaedia Britai 

tion without machine. Proceedii 

Congress of Linguists, ed. by 1 

The Hague: Mouton. 
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of Chu Chia-hua] 35. 1-4. 
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INDEX -- Yuen Ren Chao 

Academia Sinica, 66-68, 84, 92, 100, 119, 125, 143, 145, 194, 206 

Institute of History and Philology, 68, 119, 124, 150-151 
Alice in China, 93 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 92-94 
American Oriental Society, 197 

Babitt, Irving, 49 

Basic English, 42-43, 199 

Basic English records, 42, 199 
Bell Telephone Laboratory, 25, 115, 173-174 
Bennett, E.S. , 65 
Bingham, Woodbridge, 189 

Black, Dora, 57, 60, 63-65. See also Bertrand Russell 
Bloch, Bernard, 152 

Bloomfield, Leonard, 147-149, 151-152, 196 
Boodberg, Peter A., 178-182, 188, 191 

romanization scheme, 181 

Boxer Indemnity Fund, 14, 25-29, 53, 69, 143-147 
Boxers, 13 
Brown University, 147 

Camber ley Triangle. The, 91, 96-97 

Cantonese Primer, 159, 173 

Carver, David John, 19, 25 

Cavendish experiment, 32-33 

Chang Hslieh-liang, 118 

Changchow, 1, 3-4, 8, 11, 15-18, 57, 83, 201, 212, 214 

Changsha, 62-63, 111 

Changshu, 2-3, 14, 17 

Chao, Buwei Yang, 8 and fn. , 125-128, 176-177 

and birth control, 75, 209 
Charles Hall Foundation, 128, 133 
Chekiang, 122 
Cheng Chu, 126 
Chen Shih-hsiang, 183-184 
Ch'en Yin-k'o, 69-70 
Chiang Kai-shek, 118 
Chiang, Monlin, 31, 59 
Chiang Po-li, 59, 65 
Ch'ichow, 3, 11, 13, 15 
Ch'ien Hsuan-t'ung, 78, 135 


Ch'ien San-ch'iang, 78, 101-102 

Ch'ieh Ylin, 78 

Ch'i Ju-shan, 77, 98 

children's language, 201-203 

Chinese language teaching, 80, 82, 90, 128-133, 155-160, 164, 168-173 

"Chinese-Occidental Uranography ," 41-42, 51 

Chinese Student Alliance, 50-51, 145 

Chinese Students Monthly, 51 

Ch'ing Dynasty, 13, 20-21, 23-24, 39 

Ch'i Shan school, 18-19 

Chomsky, Noam, 196 

Chou En-lai, 204-205, 209 

Chu Chia-hua, 211 

Ch'ii Ch'iu-pai, 87-88 

Chung Ching-wen, 111 

Chung Hwa Book Company, 42, 94 

Chung Shan University, 53, 85 

Ch'u Shih-ying, 59 

Columbia Phonograph company, 77 

Columbia University, 48 

Commercial Press, the, 94-96, 136-137, 152 

Cornell University, 28, 32-40, 47, 50, 134 

correspondence courses, 34, 44 

Crothers, Samuel, 22, 49-50 

Crump, James, 170 

DeFrancis, John, 82-83, 86-87, 89-91 

depression, 43-44 

Deutsch, Monroe E. , 179 

Dewey, John, 61, 63 

dialect studies, 5, 29-30, 55, 99, 103-105, 111-125, 139, 149-151, 192-193, 

206 , and passim 
diaries, 24-25, 49, 51, 153 
Dobson, W.A.C.H. , 195 
Dream of the Red Chamber, 23, 54, 104 

Eberhard, Wolfram, 92, 97, 100, 105, 140-141 

eclipses, 9-10 

Edgerton, Franklin, 163 

Einstein, Albert, 33 

ElissSeff, Serge, 164-167, 175 

Esperanto, 34, 102 

Etudes sur la phonologic chinoise, 91, 135-139 


Fairbank, John K. , 147 

Feng Kuang-yii, 16 

footbinding, 13 

Field Museum, 45 

folklore studies, 99-102, 109, 121-122 

Foochow dialect, 163-164 

French language studies, 34 

Fu Ssu-nien, 68 

Fu T'ung, 59, 65 

Gardner, Charles, 130, 132 

General Chinese, 203-204, 206, 208 

General Electric Laboratory, 173-174 

German language studies, 6, 133 

Giles, Herbert, 142 

Grammar of Spoken Chinese, 194 

Granet, Marcel, 124 

Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR) , 82, 88-91 

Halley's comet, 27-28 

Harvard University, 39-45, 48, 50, 67, 70, 126, 128-134, 147 

Harvard Chinese Dictionary Project, 164-167, 179 
Harvard -Yenching Institute, 66-68, 128, 133, 147 
Hawaii, 27, 130, 154-162 
Haas, Mary, 185 
Harris, Zelig, 152 
Heinitz, Wilhelm, 140 
Henderson, L.J. , 41 
history of science, 41-42, 45 
Hocking, William Ernest, 43, 128 
Hsin ch'ing-nien (New Youth Magazine) , 49 
Hsin-Min Ts'ung-Pao. 9 
Hsu Chih-mo, 109 

Hsueh Heng (Critical Review), 104 
Huang, Nova Chao, 83-84, 170, 206, 210-212 
Huang Shou-shu, 9 
Huff, Elizabeth, 190 
Hu Minfu Ta, 29 

Hunan, 62-63, 111, 113, 122, 192 
Hung Shen, 42 
Hupeh, 119, 122, 152 
Hu Shien-sheng, 29 

Hu Shih, 23, 25, 28-29, 32, 36, 49-51, 54, 59, 61, 82, 101, 104, 126 
Hu Tun-fu, 28, 34 


International Phonetic Alphabet, 120 

Japanese-trained scholars, 52-53 
Jones, Daniel, 140 
Jones, Stephen, 114, 140 

Kanchow, 117 

Kantarowicz, Ernst H. , 191 

Karlgren, Bernhard, 91, 112, 135-140, 208 

Kao Meng-ta, 94 

Kennedy, George A., 158, 163-164 

Kiang Kang-hu, 134 

Kiangnan High School, 19-22 

Kiangsi, 113, 117, 122 

King, Robert W. , 25 

K'o Hsueh (Science), 35-37, 41, 51-52, 153 

Kroeber, Alfred, 45 

Ku Chieh-kang, 67-68, 84, 100, 101 

Kungch 'antang, 58 

Kuno, Yoshi, 185-186 

Kuomintang, 58, 86, 89, 103 

Kuo Ping-wen, 53 

kuo-y'ii, 76-77, 88, 131, 205 and passim 

Kurath, Hans, 152 

Kwangsi, 120, 122 

Kwantung, 120 

kymograph. See recording instruments 

language records, 34, 77, 79 

language reform, 23, 28, 36, 48-51, 53-57, 76-105, 205-209 and passim 

Latinxhua, 86-87, 89 

Laufer, Berthold, 45 

Lessing, Ferdinand D., 134, 182, 185 

Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, 22-23, 57, 65-66, 69, 104 

Liang Chu-ka, 99 

Li Ch'in-hsi, 135 

Li Fang-kuei, 135-136, 139 

Linguistic Society of America, 152, 197 

Linkletter, Arthur, 46 
Lin Yutang, 78 
Li Rong, 203, 206 
Liu Fu, 78, 107, 115, 122 
Liu Pan-nung. See Lu Fu 
Lo Chang-pei, 135, 139 
Louderback, George D., 45-46 
Lu Fa-yen, 78 


Manchus, hostility to, 13, 21, 56 

Mandarin, 3-4, 17, 29-30, 55, 83-86, 88, 97, 111-112, 120, 138, 157-158, 

205, 209. See also p 'u-t 'ung hua and wen yen 
Hand ar in P r ime r , 173 
marriage, new style, 17, 63-65 
mathematics, 7, 26, 28, 31, 40, 47, 62 
Mao Tse-tung, 63 
Maspero, Henri, 141-142 
Mei Kuang-ti, 48-50, 67, 133, 147 
Mei Lan-fan, 77, 98 
Mei, Y.C., 143 
Milne, A. A. , 91, 96 
Ministry of Education, 75, 112, 131 
Mongolian Dictionary Project, 182 
Mote, Frederick Wade, 169-170 
music, 4-5, 21, 37, 39, 96-98, 105-110, 140, 160-162 

Nanking, 17-22, 68, 72, 84, 118, 123, 149-151, and passim 

National Peking University, 53-55, 70-71, 102, 122, 128, 206, 213 

National Phonetic Alphabet, 86-87, 89-90 
Nichols, E.L., 33 

Ogden, C.K. , 42, 195, 199 
Olschki, Leonard, 191 

pai-hua. 48-51, 76, 82-83, 88, 195 

Paoting, 2, 11 

Peking, 2, 11, 17, 68-69, 84, 97, 126, and passim 

Peking opera, 76-78, 97-99 

Peking University. See National Peking University 

Pelliot, Paul, 139, 141 

Perriot, Hubert Octave, 142 

personal efficiency, 44 

philosophy, 40-44, 59, 62, 128 

physics, 32-33, 47 

Piagec, Jean, 202 

Plan, Iris Chao, 157-158, 161, 170, 176 

piny in, 86-87 

Popper, William, 183 

Princeton University, 33 

Progressive Party, 57-58 

punctuation, in Chinese scientific articles, 36, 51 

p'u-t'ung hua. 77-82, 85, 88, 131, 205 


recording devices, 113-119 

discs, 117-119, 149-150 

kymograph, 113-116, 173 

spectrograph, 113-116, 149-150, 173 

tape recordings, 116-119, 150 

tape recordings, wire, 116-117 

wax cylinders, 34, 116-117, 121, 139, 149 
Reischauer, Edwin 0., 168 

revolutionary ideas, 21, 24, 39, 56, 62, 157 
Richards, Ivor A., 42-43, 195 
romanization, 82, 86-92, 181-182 and passim 
Royce , Joshua, 43, 153 

Russell, Bertrand, 57-66, 69, 126, 128, 182, 204, 216 
Russell Monthly, 61, 64-65 

Sapir, Edward, 147-149, 150-152 

Sarton, George, 40-41 

Scheffer, H.M. , 43 

Science (Chinese), 35-37, 41, 51-52, 54, 153 

Science Pictorial (Chinese) , 36 

scientific studies, 19-20, 25-26, 28, 52-55, 62 

Sei yap, 186 

Shanghai, 15-18, 29, 35-36, 52, 63, 68, 83, 97, and passim 

Shen Ts'ung-wen, 93 

Shu-jen Hui, 78 

"Society of a Few Men," 74-75, 78-80 

Soochow, 2, 15-17 

Soochow University, 53, 129-130 

Soong, T.V. , 51 

Southeastern University, 50, 53-54, 104, 178 

spectrograph. See recording instruments 

St. John's University, 18, 129-130 

Stuart, Leighton, 128 

Sun Yat-sen, 23, 53 

Szechuan, 119, 124 

Ta Szu Pao. 168-169 

Tientsin, 2, 12, 15 

Toi shan, 192-193 

Tolman, Edward C., 190 

Through the Looking Glass. 93-94, 136 

Tibetan folk songs, 99-100, 121-122 

Tschen, Yinko. See Ch'en Yin-k'o 

Tsing Hua, 48> 53, 68-75, 119, 143-146, 204, 213 

Tz'uchow, 3, 11 


Unification of the National Language, 55-56, 74-92, 105, 135, 138, 204, 

207, 213. See also language reform, wen yen, pai-hua 

Ministry of Education's Committee for the Unification of the National 

Language, 75-75, 77-83 
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 


United States Army Language School, 168-173 
universities, Chinese, 47-56 
Universitato Utopia, Shanghai, 34 

University of California, Berkeley, 31, 45-46, 134, 158, 178-190, 214 
University of Chicago, 45, 134, 147, 158 
University of Hawaii, 154-162 

Oriental Institute, 154-155 

van Gulick, Robert H. , 95-96 
Vendry&s, Joseph, 142 

Wade-Giles romanization, 86, 89, 169, 181, 200, 206 

Waley, Arthur, 142-143 

Wang Kuo-wei, 69-70 

Wang Li, 194 

Wang Yi, 78 

Wang Yun-wu (W.W.), 89, 94-95 

Ware, James, 130, 164-167 

War Lords, 73-74 

Warren, Earl, 190-191 

wen yen. 24, 49, 85 

Williams, E.T. , 134 

Woods, J.H. , 128-130 

Wu dialect, 17, 56-57, 83, 158, 209 

Wu Kang (Solvisto K.), 34 

Wu Nan-shuen, 73 

Yale University, 134, 147, 155, 163-168 
Yao ^olk songs, 99-100, 121-122 
Yang Lien-sheng, 165, 167, 175-176 
Yang Shih-feng, 125, 192 
Yenching University, 53, 128-129 
Youth's Improvement Society, 22-24 
Yii Tao-ch'uan, 99 

Rosemary Levenson 

Grew up in England; B.A. in History from 
Cambridge University, 1948. Graduate work 
in History and International Law at 
Cambridge and Radcliffe. M.A. in Sociology 
at the University of California Berkeley in 

Moved to Berkeley in 1951 and worked as 
free-lance editor and anthropological 
photographer. Volunteer service in groups 
related to the public schools, religion, 
and University of California faculty wives. 

Travel in Europe and the Far East. Joined 
the staff of the Regional Oral History Office 
in 1970. 

13 & :> 5 a